Scleractinian coral (Cnidaria, Hexacorallia, Scleractinia) diversity of the Mersing Islands, Peninsular Malaysia
expand article infoJen Nie Lee§, Kee Alfian Abd Adzis§, Lutfi Afiq-Rosli||, Jani T. I. Tanzil|, Albert Apollo Chan, Md Nizam Ismail#, Khodzori Fikri Akmal¤, Yang Amri Affendi«
‡ Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Kuala Nerus, Malaysia
§ Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Malaysia
| National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
¶ Division of Marine Park and Resources Management, Putrajaya, Malaysia
# Fisheries Research Institute, Penang, Malaysia
¤ Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
« Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Open Access


We present a comprehensive checklist of scleractinian (hard) corals for the Mersing Islands, Malaysia based on surveys conducted at 24 reefs across protected and unprotected marine areas. A total of 261 species of corals from 16 families and one incertae sedis (Pachyseris spp.) were recorded, along with ten records that are new for the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Compared against the IUCN Red List, 46.7% of coral species found in the Mersing Islands were of Least Concern (LC), 29.5% as Near Threatened (NT) and 16.4% Vulnerable (V). Only one recorded species, Pectinia maxima (Moll & Best, 1984), was listed as Endangered (EN). Baseline species diversity data are essential for the monitoring and management of marine biodiversity, especially within marine protected areas. With both protected and unprotected coral reef areas in the vicinity of the widely scattered Mersing Islands, the diversity and distribution of coral species can be used as the basis for area-based conservation and management strategies. The diversity and abundance of scleractinian corals of each island or area should be surveyed periodically to ensure the appropriate level of protection is afforded to retain scleractinian biodiversity in this region.


Biodiversity, conservation, hard coral, Johor, marine protected area, South China Sea


Scleractinian corals, commonly referred to as hard corals, are a group of animals belonging to the order Scleractinia under the Phylum Cnidaria. These organisms are the backbone of coral reefs, which support high species diversity, provide goods and services (e.g., food, coastal protection, tourism), and provide substantive support to people worldwide (Praveena et al. 2012; Huang et al. 2016; Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2019). Coral reefs in Malaysia are estimated to cover about 4,006 km2 (Praveena et al. 2012), with most reefs found in Sabah and along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and in limited areas in Sarawak and the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia (UNEP 2007). A total of 398 species of scleractinian corals (Huang et al. 2015) and 925 species of reef fishes (Chong et al. 2010) have thus far been recorded from the shallow fringing reefs along the coasts of Peninsular Malaysia alone. These reefs are located at Sunda Shelf, within and near the western edge of the Coral Triangle, a marine biodiversity hotspot that is home to 627 species of zooxanthellate corals (Veron et al. 2015).

Malaysia, as a megadiverse country, is dedicated to fulfilling the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB) agreement (Tong 2020). With the launch of the National Policy on Biological Diversity in 2016, Malaysia aims to further safeguard both key terrestrial and marine ecosystems, as well as species and genetic diversity (Goal 3) (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment 2016). Knowledge and data on the biodiversity of Malaysia’s vast marine areas will therefore be crucial for stakeholders and policy makers to identify suitable areas for ecological protection. To date, studies that have reported on the reef-building coral biodiversity around Peninsular Malaysia are somewhat limited. A review by Affendi and Rosman (2011) found only six research articles on scleractinian diversity published for the coral reef-rich areas along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, most of which were based on surveys conducted only around highly visited tourist islands that are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DOF), e.g., Pulau Redang and Pulau Tioman (e.g., Toda et al. 2007; Akmal et al. 2019).

The Mersing Islands comprise one of the largest archipelagos off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. With 58 islands (Said et al. 2021), this region is not only known for its coral reefs but also for its seagrass ecosystems (Ooi et al. 2011; Ponnampalam et al. 2015). Geologically, the Mersing Islands originated ~350 million years ago, and they are currently evaluated as a potential National Geopark for their unique geological and cultural heritage (Said et al. 2021). This elevated status will not only affect the islands but also the surrounding marine life, both in terms of increased protection and increased tourism. Biodiversity data in the area will therefore be extremely valuable to advise any development and/or management plans for the Mersing Islands. A sole report that recorded 155 species of scleractinian corals from four islands (Pulau Dayang, Pulau Pemanggil, Pulau Tinggi and Batu Tikus) (Harborne et al. 2000) was the main literature source for coral biodiversity in the Mersing Islands prior to this study, aims to provide a comprehensive updated species checklist of scleractinian corals for the coral reefs around the Mersing Islands.


The study area comprised islands on the east coast of Johor, Peninsular Malaysia, referred to as the Mersing Islands. Underwater surveys were carried out during two expeditions, one in 2012 (“Marine Park Biodiversity Expedition)” and one in 2016 (“Johor 8 Islands Expedition”). Parts of the Mersing Islands (Fig. 1) are protected under the unique overlapping protection by both Malaysia’s Federal (known as Johor Marine Park) and Johor State jurisdictions, i.e., these reefs are protected under the Fisheries Act of 1985 (Federal) as well as by the Johor State government, following the establishment of the Johor National Park in 1990. Both authorities promote the protection, preservation and management of the natural breeding ground and habitat of aquatic life. In 2013, the protected area that falls within Mersing Islands was renamed ‘Sultan Iskandar Marine Park’, and entrance and activities within the Marine Park are strictly controlled by Johor National Park Corporation, leading to a significant reduction of tourism activities in the area (Hassan 2013).

Figure 1. 

Survey areas at the Mersing Islands. Johor Marine Park protected area are two nautical miles away from the low tide shoreline of each gazetted island

Coral species diversity surveys were conducted at Pulau Aur, Pulau Pemanggil, Pulau Besar, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi (Fig. 1) in 2012, when a total of 13 reefs were surveyed (depth range: 3–12 m) using 100 m transects perpendicular to the shoreline, for a total of 19 transects. Further surveys were conducted in 2016 for one reef at Pulau Tinggi using SCUBA timed swims (English et al. 1997), and seven reefs via transects perpendicular to the shoreline (Pulau Lima Kecil, Pulau Lima Besar, Pulau Tokong Rakit, Tokong Gantang, Tokong Chondong, Tokong Belalai and Tokong Chupak) (Fig. 1). The reefs surveyed in 2012 were all part of a larger marine protected area (MPA), whereas the reefs surveyed in 2016 were all outside the MPA (i.e., unprotected, non-MPA).

Corals were identified to species level based on distinct features of their morphological structure according to Veron (2000), using photographs and videos recorded during the survey. All identified species were standardized according to the World Register of Marine Species (Hoeksema and Cairns 2021) to account for synonyms and taxonomic change. The relative abundance and conservation status of each species were gathered from Veron (2000) and the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2019). Conservation categories that were used are Not Evaluated (NE), Data Deficient (DD), Least Concern (CC), Near Threatened (NT), Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN) and Critically Endangered (CR).


A total of 261 scleractinian coral species from 16 families and one incertea sedis were recorded during the 2012 (MPA; 243 species) and 2016 (non-MPA; 261 species) expeditions. Table 1 shows the checklist of scleractinian corals from Mersing Islands, with species arranged alphabetically by family and including records (155 species) from the previous survey published by Harborne et al. (2000). The current study found ten new records of scleractinian corals from the Mersing Islands in the larger Peninsular Malaysia east coast area (Fig. 1), i.e. Acropora pectinata (Brook, 1892); Astreopora explanata Veron, 1985; Coeloseris mayeri Vaughan, 1918; Halomitra pileus (Linnaeus, 1758); Acanthastrea rotundoflora Chevalier, 1975; Favites vasta (Klunzinger, 1879); Paramontastraea serageldini (Veron, 2000); Seriatopora hystrix Dana, 1846; Goniopora gracilis (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849); and Pavona divaricata Lamarck, 1816 (Fig. 2).

Table 1.

Checklist of scleractinian corals from the Mersing Islands according to (a) Harborne et al. (2000); (b) Marine Park Biodiversity Expedition 2012; and (c) Johor 8 Islands Expedition 2016. Species denoted with an asterisk (*) are those considered to represent new records for the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

Order Scleractinia (17) a b c Abundance (sensu Veron, 2000) IUCN Status
Family Acroporidae (79)
Acropora abrotanoides (Lamarck, 1816) / Sometimes common LC
Acropora anthocercis (Brook, 1893) / Sometimes common VU
Acropora aspera (Dana, 1846) / / Sometimes common VU
Acropora austera (Dana, 1846) / Usually uncommon NT
Acropora cerealis (Dana, 1846) / / Common LC
Acropora clathrata (Brook, 1891) / / Common LC
Acropora cytherea (Dana, 1846) / / / Common LC
Acropora digitifera (Dana, 1846) / / / Sometimes common NT
Acropora divaricata (Dana, 1846) / / / Common NT
Acropora florida (Dana, 1846) / / / Common NT
Acropora gemmifera (Brook, 1892) / / Common LC
Acropora globiceps (Dana, 1846) / Common VU
Acropora grandis (Brook, 1892) / Common LC
Acropora hemprichii (Ehrenberg, 1834) / Common VU
Acropora hoeksemai Wallace, 1997 / / / Common VU
Acropora horrida (Dana, 1846) / / Uncommon VU
Acropora humilis (Dana, 1846) / / Common NT
Acropora hyacinthus (Dana, 1846) / / / Common NT
Acropora intermedia (Brook, 1891) / Unknown NE
Acropora latistella (Brook, 1892) / / / Common LC
Acropora loripes (Brook, 1892) / / Common NT
Acropora microphthalma (Verrill, 1869) / / Common LC
Acropora millepora (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / / Common NT
Acropora monticulosa (Brüggemann, 1879) / / Uncommon NT
Acropora muricata (Linnaeus, 1758) / / / Common NT
Acropora nasuta (Dana, 1846) / / Common NT
*Acropora pectinata Veron, 2000 / Uncommon DD
Acropora robusta (Dana, 1846) / / Common LC
Acropora samoensis (Brook, 1891) / / Usually uncommon LC
Acropora sarmentosa (Brook, 1892) / / Common LC
Acropora secale (Studer, 1878) / Common NT
Acropora selago (Studer, 1879) / / Sometimes common NT
Acropora solitaryensis Veron & Wallace, 1984 / / Rare VU
Acropora subulata (Dana, 1846) / Common LC
Acropora tenuis (Dana, 1846) / Common NT
Acropora valenciennesi (Milne Edwards, 1860) / Common LC
Acropora valida (Dana, 1846) / Sometimes common LC
Acropora vaughani Wells, 1954 / Uncommon VU
Acropora yongei Veron & Wallace, 1984 / / Common LC
Alveopora daedalea (Forskål, 1775) / Uncommon VU
Alveopora spongiosa Dana, 1846 / Usually uncommon NT
Anacropora forbesi Ridley, 1884 / Uncommon LC
Anacropora matthaii Pillai, 1973 / Rare VU
*Astreopora explanata Veron, 1985 / Sometimes common NE
Astreopora gracilis Bernard, 1896 / Sometimes common LC
Astreopora listeri Bernard, 1896 / Usually uncommon LC
Astreopora myriophthalma (Lamarck, 1816) / / Common LC
Astreopora ocellata Bernard, 1896 / Usually rare LC
Isopora brueggemanni (Brook, 1893) / / Common VU
Isopora cuneata (Dana, 1846) / Common VU
Isopora palifera (Lamarck, 1816) / / Common NT
Montipora aequituberculata Bernard, 1897 / / / Common LC
Montipora cactus Bernard, 1897 / Common VU
Montipora caliculata (Dana, 1846) / Uncommon VU
Montipora cebuensis Nemenzo, 1976 / / Uncommon VU
Montipora confusa Nemenzo, 1967 / Uncommon NT
Montipora danae Milne Edwards & Haime, 1851 / Common LC
Montipora delicatula Veron, 2000 / Uncommon VU
Montipora digitata (Dana, 1846) / Common LC
Montipora effusa (Dana, 1846) / Uncommon NT
Montipora florida Nemenzo, 1967 / Common VU
Montipora foliosa (Pallas, 1766) / Common NT
Montipora foveolata (Dana, 1846) / Seldom common NT
Montipora gaimardi Bernard, 1897 / / Sometimes common VU
Montipora hispida (Dana, 1846) / / / Usually uncommon LC
Montipora informis Bernard, 1897 / Common LC
Montipora malampaya Nemenzo, 1967 / Common VU
Montipora mollis Bernard, 1897 / / Common LC
Montipora monasteriata (Forskål, 1775) / Common LC
Montipora nodosa (Dana, 1846) / Usually uncommon NT
Montipora palawanensis Veron, 2000 / Uncommon NT
Montipora peltiformis Bernard, 1897 / Uncommon NT
Montipora stellata Bernard, 1897 / Common LC
Montipora tuberculosa (Lamarck, 1816) / / Common LC
Montipora turgescens Bernard, 1897 / Common LC
Montipora turtlensis Veron & Wallace, 1984 / Common VU
Montipora venosa (Ehrenberg, 1834) / Uncommon NT
Montipora verrucosa (Lamarck, 1816) / Sometimes common LC
Montipora verruculosa Veron, 2000 / Uncommon VU
Famili Agariciidae (15)
*Coeloseris mayeri Vaughan, 1918 / / Uncommon LC
Gardineroseris planulata (Dana, 1846) / / Usually uncommon LC
Leptoseris explanata Yabe & Sugiyama, 1941 / / Uncommon LC
Leptoseris foliosa Dinesen, 1980 / Uncommon LC
Leptoseris hawaiiensis Vaughan, 1907 / Uncommon LC
Leptoseris mycetoseroides Wells, 1954 / / Sometimes common LC
Leptoseris scabra Vaughan, 1907 / Usually uncommon LC
Pavona bipartita Nemenzo, 1979 / Uncommon VU
Pavona cactus (Forskål, 1775) / / Common VU
Pavona clavus Dana, 1846 / Common LC
Pavona danai (Milne Edwards, 1860) / Uncommon VU
Pavona decussata (Dana, 1846) / / / Common VU
*Pavona divaricata Lamarck, 1816 / Unknown NE
Pavona explanulata (Lamarck, 1816) / / / Common LC
Pavona varians Verrill, 1864 / Common LC
Famili Astrocoeniidae (3)
Palauastrea ramosa Yabe & Sugiyama, 1941 / Common NT
Stylocoeniella armata (Ehrenberg, 1834) / Rare LC
Stylocoeniella guentheri (Bassett-Smith, 1890) / / Uncommon LC
Famili Dendrophylliidae (10)
Duncanopsammia peltata (Esper, 1790) / / / Common VU
Tubastraea coccinea Lesson, 1830 / / Unknown NE
Tubastraea diaphana (Dana, 1846) / Unknown NE
Tubastraea faulkneri Wells, 1982 / Unknown NE
Tubastraea micranthus (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / Unknown NE
Turbinaria frondens (Dana, 1846) / Common LC
Turbinaria irregularis Bernard, 1896 / Common LC
Turbinaria mesenterina (Lamarck, 1816) / / / Common VU
Turbinaria reniformis Bernard, 1896 / / Sometimes common VU
Turbinaria stellulata (Lamarck, 1816) / / / Usually uncommon VU
Famili Diploastreidae (1)
Diploastrea heliopora (Lamarck, 1816) / / / Common NT
Famili Euphylliidae (8)
Euphyllia cristata Chevalier, 1971 / Uncommon VU
Euphyllia glabrescens (Chamisso & Eysenhardt, 1821) / / Uncommon NT
Euphyllia paraglabrescens Veron, 1990 / Rare VU
Fimbriaphyllia ancora (Veron & Pichon, 1980) / / / Seldom common VU
Fimbriaphyllia divisa (Veron & Pichon, 1980) / / Seldom common NT
Fimbriaphyllia paradivisa (Veron, 1990) / Uncommon VU
Galaxea astreata (Lamarck, 1816) / / Common VU
Galaxea fascicularis (Linnaeus, 1767) / / / Uncommon NT
Famili Fungiidae (20)
Ctenactis crassa (Dana, 1846) / Usually uncommon LC
Ctenactis echinata (Pallas, 1766) / / / Common LC
Cycloseris explanulata (van der Horst, 1922) / / Uncommon LC
Cycloseris vaughani (Boschma, 1923) / Rare LC
Danafungia horrida (Dana, 1846) / Uncommon NE
Danafungia scruposa (Klunzinger, 1879) / Uncommon LC
Fungia fungites (Linnaeus, 1758) / / / Common NT
*Halomitra pileus (Linnaeus, 1758) / / Usually uncommon LC
Heliofungia actiniformis (Quoy & Gaimard, 1833) / Common VU
Herpolitha limax (Esper, 1792) / / Common LC
Lithophyllon concinna (Verrill, 1864) / / Common LC
Lithophyllon repanda (Dana, 1846) / Common LC
Lithophyllon undulatum Rehberg, 1892 / / / Usually uncommon NT
Lobactis scutaria (Lamarck, 1801) / Common LC
Pleuractis granulosa (Klunzinger, 1879) / Usually uncommon LC
Pleuractis moluccensis (Van der Horst, 1919) / Usually uncommon LC
Pleuractis paumotensis (Stutchbury, 1833) / / Common LC
Podabacia crustacea (Pallas, 1766) / / / Usually uncommon LC
Polyphyllia talpina (Lamarck, 1801) / / / Common LC
Sandalolitha robusta (Quelch, 1886) / / Common LC
Famili Lobophylliidae (23)
Acanthastrea echinata (Dana, 1846) / / / Usually uncommon LC
Acanthastrea hemprichii (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / / Uncommon VU
Acanthastrea pachysepta (Chevalier, 1975) / Usually uncommon NT
*Acanthastrea rotundoflora Chevalier, 1975 / Usually uncommon NT
Cynarina lacrymalis (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1848) / Seldom common NT
Echinophyllia aspera (Ellis & Solander, 1786) / / / Rare LC
Echinophyllia glabra (Nemenzo, 1959) / Common LC
Homophyllia australis (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1848) / / Uncommon LC
Lobophyllia agaricia (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / / / Uncommon LC
Lobophyllia corymbosa (Forskål, 1775) / / Sometimes common LC
Lobophyllia diminuta Veron, 1985 / Uncommon VU
Lobophyllia flabelliformis Veron, 2000 / / Usually uncommon VU
Lobophyllia hataii Yabe, Sugiyama & Eguchi, 1936 / / Uncommon LC
Lobophyllia hemprichii (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / / Common LC
Lobophyllia radians (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / / / Common LC
Lobophyllia recta (Dana, 1846) / / / Common LC
Lobophyllia robusta Yabe & Sugiyama, 1936 / Uncommon LC
Lobophyllia valenciennesii (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / Uncommon LC
Lobophyllia vitiensis (Brüggemann, 1877) / / Usually uncommon NT
Micromussa lordhowensis (Veron & Pichon, 1982) / / / Sometimes common NT
Oxypora crassispinosa Nemenzo, 1979 / Uncommon LC
Oxypora echinata (Saville Kent, 1871) / / Usually rare LC
Oxypora lacera (Verrill, 1864) / / Common LC
Famili Merulinidae (57)
Astraeosmilia tumida (Matthai, 1928) / / Uncommon NT
Astrea curta Dana, 1846 / / Common LC
Coelastrea aspera (Verrill, 1866) / / Common LC
Cyphastrea microphthalma (Lamarck, 1816) / / Common LC
Cyphastrea ocellina (Dana, 1846) / Rare VU
Cyphastrea serailia (Forskål, 1775) / Common LC
Dipsastraea amicorum (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / Uncommon LC
Dipsastraea favus (Forskål, 1775) / / Common LC
Dipsastraea helianthoides (Wells, 1954) / Sometimes common NT
Dipsastraea maritima (Nemenzo, 1971) / Uncommon NT
Dipsastraea pallida (Dana, 1846) / Less common LC
Dipsastraea speciosa (Dana, 1846) / Common LC
Dipsastraea veroni (Moll & Best, 1984) / / Rare NT
Echinopora gemmacea (Lamarck, 1816) / / Usually uncommon LC
Echinopora horrida Dana, 1846 / / Uncommon NT
Echinopora lamellosa (Esper, 1791) / / Common LC
Echinopora mammiformis (Nemenzo, 1959) / / Common NT
Echinopora pacifica Veron, 1990 / / / Usually uncommon NT
Favites abdita (Ellis & Solander, 1786) / / / Common NT
Favites complanata (Ehrenberg, 1834) / Sometimes common NT
Favites flexuosa (Dana, 1846) / / Sometimes common NT
Favites halicora (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / / Usually uncommon NT
Favites magnistellata (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / / Usually uncommon NT
Favites melicerum (Ehrenberg, 1834) / Rare NT
Favites pentagona (Esper, 1790) / / Sometimes common LC
Favites valenciennesii (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / Usually uncommon NT
*Favites vasta (Klunzinger, 1879) / Uncommon NT
Goniastrea edwardsi Chevalier, 1971 / / Common LC
Goniastrea favulus (Dana, 1846) / / / Uncommon NT
Goniastrea pectinata (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / / Common LC
Goniastrea retiformis (Lamarck, 1816) / / Common LC
Goniastrea stelligera (Dana, 1846) / / / Common NT
Hydnophora exesa (Pallas, 1766) / / / Common NT
Hydnophora grandis Gardiner, 1904 / / Usually uncommon LC
Hydnophora microconos (Lamarck, 1816) / / / Uncommon NT
Hydnophora rigida (Dana, 1846) / / Sometimes common LC
Leptoria phrygia (Ellis & Solander, 1786) / / / Common NT
Merulina ampliata (Ellis & Solander, 1786) / / / Usually common LC
Merulina cylindrica (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / / Uncommon LC
Merulina scabricula Dana, 1846 / / Common LC
Mycedium elephantotus (Pallas, 1766) / / / Common LC
Orbicella annularis (Ellis & Solander, 1786) / Rare NE
Oulophyllia bennettae (Veron, Pichon & Wijsman-Best, 1977) / / Uncommon NT
Oulophyllia crispa (Lamarck, 1816) / / / Uncommon NT
Paramontastraea salebrosa (Nemenzo, 1959) / Rare VU
*Paramontastraea serageldini (Veron, 2000) / Rare VU
Pectinia alcicornis (Saville Kent, 1871) / / Usually uncommon VU
Pectinia lactuca (Pallas, 1766) / Common VU
Pectinia maxima (Moll & Best, 1984) / Uncommon EN
Pectinia paeonia (Dana, 1846) / / / Common NT
Platygyra acuta Veron, 2000 / Sometimes common NT
Platygyra daedalea (Ellis & Solander, 1786) / / Common LC
Platygyra lamellina (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / / Usually uncommon NT
Platygyra pini Chevalier, 1975 / / Usually uncommon LC
Platygyra sinensis (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / / / Usually uncommon LC
Platygyra verweyi Wijsman-Best, 1976 / Usually uncommon NT
Trachyphyllia geoffroyi (Audouin, 1826) / Rare NT
Famili Plerogyridae (2)
Physogyra lichtensteini (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1851) / / Common VU
Plerogyra sinuosa (Dana, 1846) / / / Usually uncommon NT
Famili Plesiastreidae (1)
Plesiastrea versipora (Lamarck, 1816) / / Unknown LC
Famili Pocilloporidae (7)
Pocillopora damicornis (Linnaeus, 1758) / / / Common LC
Pocillopora grandis Dana, 1846 / Common NT
Pocillopora meandrina Dana, 1846 / *Common LC
Pocillopora verrucosa (Ellis & Solander, 1786) / / Common LC
*Seriatopora hystrix Dana, 1846 / Common LC
Stylophora pistillata (Esper, 1792) / Common NT
Stylophora subseriata (Ehrenberg, 1834) / / Common LC
Famili Poritidae (21)
Goniopora columna Dana, 1846 / / Common NT
Goniopora djiboutiensis Vaughan, 1907 / Common LC
*Goniopora gracilis (Milne Edwards & Haime, 1849) / Unknown NE
Goniopora lobata Milne Edwards, 1860 / / Common NT
Goniopora norfolkensis Veron & Pichon, 1982 / Uncommon LC
Goniopora planulata (Ehrenberg, 1834) / Usually uncommon VU
Goniopora stokesi Milne Edwards & Haime, 1851 / Uncommon NT
Porites annae Crossland, 1952 / / / Common NT
Porites attenuata Nemenzo, 1955 / Common VU
Porites australiensis Vaughan, 1918 / common LC
Porites cylindrica Dana, 1846 / / Common NT
Porites densa Vaughan, 1918 / Sometimes common NT
Porites evermanni Vaughan, 1907 / / / Usually uncommon DD
Porites latistellata Quelch, 1886 / Uncommon LC
Porites lichen (Dana, 1846) / Common LC
Porites lobata Dana, 1846 / / Common NT
Porites lutea Milne Edwards & Haime, 1851 / / Common LC
Porites monticulosa Dana, 1846 / Common LC
Porites nigrescens Dana, 1846 / Sometimes common VU
Porites rus (Forskål, 1775) / / Common LC
Porites solida (Forskål, 1775) / / / Common LC
Famili Psammocoridae (6)
Psammocora columna Dana, 1846 / / / Sometimes common LC
Psammocora contigua (Esper, 1794) / / Common NT
Psammocora digitata Milne Edwards & Haime, 1851 / / / Usually uncommon NT
Psammocora exesa Dana, 1846 / / Common LC
Psammocora haimiana Milne Edwards & Haime, 1851 / Uncommon LC
Psammocora profundacella Gardiner, 1898 / Uncommon LC
Famili Rhizangiidae (1)
Pseudosiderastrea tayamai Yabe & Sugiyama, 1935 / Uncommon NT
Famili Leptastreidae (3)
Leptastrea aequalis Veron, 2000 / Rare VU
Leptastrea purpurea (Dana, 1846) / / / Common LC
Leptastrea transversa Klunzinger, 1879 / Uncommon LC
Famili Scleractinia incertae sedis (4)
Pachyseris foliosa Veron, 1990 / Uncommon LC
Pachyseris gemmae Nemenzo, 1955 / / Rare NT
Pachyseris rugosa (Lamarck, 1801) / / Common VU
Pachyseris speciosa (Dana, 1846) / / / Common LC
Figure 2. 

New records of scleractinian corals for the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia a Astreopora explanata b Coeloseris mayeri c Halomitra pileus d Acanthastrea rotundoflora e Favites vasta f Paramontastraea serageldini g Goniopora gracilis, and h Pavona divaricata.

Of the 16 families recorded, Acroporidae was the richest with a total of 79 species: 39 Acropora species, 28 Montipora species and four from other genera (Table 1). Six per cent (16) of species from the list were considered ‘rare’ in abundance according to Veron (2000), whereby the species can be common in a specific area but rare overall. According to the IUCN Red List, many coral species we observed were classified as of Least Concern (46.7%), Near Threatened (29.5%) or Vulnerable (18.8%). Only one species, Pectinia maxima, was categorised as Endangered (EN). The remaining species were Not Evaluated (3.8%) or classified as Data Deficient (0.8%).

Discussions and conclusions

The current study provides an updated species checklist of scleractinian corals from coral reefs around the Mersing Islands. A total of 261 scleractinian species were recorded, including ten new records for the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, from where 398 species were previously reported (Huang et al. 2015). Compared to previous findings by Harborne et al. (2000) (155 species recorded from a subset of reefs around the Mersing Islands), we find the coral diversity around the Mersing Islands to be comparable, if not slightly higher, than other reefs in the region, i.e., Pulau Tioman with 239 species (Akmal et al. 2019) (i.e., north of the Mersing Islands) and Singapore with 255 species (Huang et al. 2009) (i.e., south of the Mersing Islands). The South China Sea in the Central Indo Pacific holds a high biodiversity of scleractinian corals, with a total recorded number of 571 species. The diversity found around the Mersing Islands represents ~ 45% of the total recorded coral fauna of the South China Sea and ~65% of the total recorded fauna from the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Previous records and records from the current study account for a total of 413 scleractinian coral species for reefs along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. These include eight new records of coral species at Pulau Tioman and Pulau Redang by Akmal et al. (2019) and the ten (10) new records from this study.

The ten new records of coral species for the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia found during this study are known to be widely distributed in the Indo-West Pacific Ocean (east coast of Africa to Japan and Melanesia) (Veron 2000; Cairns and Hoeksema 2022; GBIF 2022). Two of these species (Acanthastrea rotundoflora and Seriatopora hystrix) had previously been reported from Singapore’s southern islands (Huang et al. 2009), whereas another species (Pavona divaricata) was previously recorded from the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia (Affendi and Rosman 2011). However, we note that all the newly recorded coral species found were rarely observed in our surveys, suggesting that their occurrence along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia may be relatively low. Given the vastness of the coral reef area around the Mersing Islands and the complexity of reef ecosystems, together with seagrass meadows, such as those at Pulau Tinggi (Ooi et al. 2011) and Pulau Besar (Lee et al. 2010), we posit that the current account of coral diversity in this region may yet be underestimated. Further surveys around the Mersing Islands are likely to yield new findings, as visual surveys have only been conducted once at each study reef site. Although hard scleractinian corals form the basis of coral reef ecosystems, information about other reef-related species’ diversity and abundance is also crucial for marine area planning (e.g., determining management strategies and protection status). Based on the results of the current study, we propose that more surveys should be conducted around the Mersing Islands, extending investigations to other taxa where possible.

Biodiversity and taxonomic studies on the scleractinian corals of Peninsular Malaysia are in their infancy compared to neighbouring regions, e.g., Singapore (Huang et al. 2009) and Sabah, East Malaysia (Waheed and Hoeksema 2013, 2014; Waheed et al. 2015). Given recent findings around the region, such as the new genus and species records of Micromussa analusensis by Ng et al. (2019), the increased occurrence and records of Pocillopora acuta (Poquita-Du et al. 2017; Torres and Ravago-Gotanco 2018), and the cryptic speciation in Pachyseris speciosa (Bongaerts et al. 2021; Feldman et al. 2021), we can expect important scleractinian discoveries for the Mersing Islands (and other coral reefs in Malaysia) should we aim to further explore and examine these underexplored reefs.


We thank the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (formally known as Department of Marine Park Malaysia during both expeditions); EKOMAR from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; and Institute of Biological Sciences and Team Sea Habitats from Universiti Malaya for organizing the expeditions. This study was supported by the Department of Fisheries Malaysia. We also express our special thanks to the reviewers and academic editor, who provided comments that helped improve the manuscript.


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