Malaysia has put reefs before ringgits (that's money to you and me) by closing 12 popular coral reefs until the end of October.

The popular dive sites at Kedah, Terengganu and Pahang will be strictly off limits to underwater explorers over the next three months to allow the delicate coral ecosystems time to recover after rising water temperatures have caused bleaching.

This move sees Malaysia making a brave decision to put the health of its reefs over the short-term financial rewards of tourism. The reefs of the region attract half a million tourists annually and offer some of the world's best diving.

Abdul Jamal Mydin, director general of the Department of Marine Parks, stated that the sea temperature has risen to 88°F (31°C) in recent months, up 4°F (2°C) from the normal level.

Warmer water temperatures in the region have resulted in 90% of the reefs suffering from coral bleaching, making them even more vulnerable to the pressures of tourism.

In Malaysia corals are facing a vast variety of threats even without the coral bleaching episodes, like uncontrolled tourism, said Yeap Chin Aik of the Malaysian Nature Society.

As the world's coral reefs are affected by climate change, many tough decisions regarding the closure of reefs will need to be made by national governments. Environmentalists argue that if the world's most beautiful reefs are to survive it will mean tackling global warming, not just the damage by tourism.   

Malaysia's world-renowned dive sites may be off limits for now but Wanderlust knows there's more to the nation than its underwater delights. Check out our Malaysia travel guide to see what else is on offer.