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Open ocean, open data for Malaysia

Sharing makes the ocean sustainable, believes Capt Zaharuddin Mohd Maideen, Director, National Oceanography Directorate, MOSTI, Malaysia

For decades, Malaysia’s water resources have served as a catalyst for the socio-economic development of the country. And it is well-recognized that a healthy ocean sector is essential for Malaysia’s transformation to a high-income, developed nation by 2020.

But as population explodes and industrialization leads to ever-increasing water pollution, finding a way forward to sustainable future has become a key requirement for the Malaysian government. With this vision, the National Oceanography Directorate (NOD) was established under the purview of Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) in November 2000 to develop the national oceanographic and marine science R&D policy and agenda.

While speaking to Geospatial World, Capt Zaharuddin Mohd Maideen, Director, NOD, points to open data as a crucial facilitator of a sustainable ocean. In fact, NOD has initiated the Malaysian National Oceanographic Data Centre (MyNODC) to provide open access to oceanographic data. MyNODC serves as a central database housing oceanographic and marine data and information that requires the gathering, quality control, processing, summarization, dissemination, and preservation of data generated by stakeholders.

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“NOD also conducts expeditions from time to time to collect data and information, and deposit it in this repository. Complete care is being taken to follow international standards like MS1759 for interoperable data. All hydrography data follows standards stipulated by the International Hydrographic Organization,” tells Zaharuddin.

However, problems persist. “People still ask us why they should share data, especially when they have spent their own money to gather that data.” And when scientists from different institutions compete with each other to get the best paper or study out, they become even more secretive about the data they are working on. “Even the data cleaning process differs from organization to organization. So, making the data meaningful and reliable also becomes much more difficult,” explains Zaharuddin. “But, we need to remember that sharing makes the ocean sustainable.”

A major roadblock in that path to sustainability is the problem of ocean acidification, which is intensifying in tandem with climate change. “Burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are two major factors leading to the acidification of our oceans. Though Malaysians are lucky because we don’t witness air pollution (haze) like Beijing and New Delhi, but the winds carrying the carbon dioxide to the oceans cause acidification, which is particularly detrimental to our corals.”

The threat is pretty alarming, and has led to Malaysia joining a multilateral partnership of six countries, called the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF), to address the urgent threats facing the coastal and marine resources. Though Malaysia has lead several high-engagement programs like the First International Conference on Managing Ecosystem Health of Tropical Seas in 2010 or the CTI-CFF Regional Business Forum in 2011, but financial challenges remain. “Because of lack of adequate funds, we are not able to conduct long-term research projects. And there is no continuity in existing projects also due to financial constraints,” tells Zaharuddin.

Human resource development is another factor that requires urgent attention. “We are lacking in capacity building because we don’t have enough subject matter experts, especially in the fields of law and economics.” And these two areas need to be well-represented if Malaysia hopes to float a unified national ocean policy. “Well, the draft of the ocean policy has been submitted to the stakeholders. Let’s hope for better tides,” Zaharuddin signs off.