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Preferences For Outdoor Recreation:
The Case Of Pulau Payar Visitors

Ahmad Mahdzan Ayob
Shamsul Bahrain Rawi
Siti Aznor Ahmad
Amizam Arzem


Pulau Payar, a small island located off the coast of the northern Malaysian state of Kedah, is a very popular tourist destination. This tourist spot can be accessed from three major points-Kuah, on Langkawi Island, Kuala Kedah on the mainland, and Penang Island. From Kuah or Kuala Kedah the boat ride takes about 45 minutes, whereas from Penang, it may take slightly more than an hour. Pulau Payar has been declared a Marine Park under section 41 through 45 of the Fisheries Act 1985. The purpose of making it a marine park is to protect, conserve and manage the marine ecosystem, especially coral reefs and their associated flora and fauna, for the benefit of future generations. The Pulau Payar Marine Park covers 2 nautical miles off four little islands - Pulau Payar (the largest), Pulau Kaca, Pulau Lembu and Pulau Segantang. None of the island is inhabited, except by on-duty officers of the Fisheries Department, who enforce the law. Fishing, either for hobby or commercial, is strictly prohibited around the islands.

What is the main attraction of Pulau Payar to tourists? Most visitors come to Pulau Payar to see the coral reefs and to watch the varied species of fish. The average visibility of 30-50 feet (9-15m) in waters at Pulau Payar ensures visitor satisfaction for diving and snorkeling activities at all times. Based on WWF's marine park studies, 36 genera of hard corals, 92 other marine invertebrates and 45 genera of fish are available in this marine park. At about noon everyday, little black-tip reef sharks would appear at the main beach to be fed by tourists. Apparently, this is one place where tourists enjoy the sight of sharks-albeit little ones!

How many tourists come to Pulau Payar yearly? According to records kept by the Fisheries Department, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of annual visitors between 1988 and 1999. In 1988, only 1373 visitors visited Pulau Payar; but in 1999, a total of 83,246 tourists came to visit the island (table 1 in appendix). This is equivalent to about 60 times the arrivals eleven years previously!

What activities can the visitor to Pulau Payar participate in? Most tourists come to swim, snorkel or to scuba-dive in the clear water off the island. On land, they can partake in tracking, as there are two jungle tracks on the main island. These tracks appear to be underutilized as few visitors are even aware of their existence.

Presently, the diving industry at the Marine Park is still far from saturation point. However, snorkeling is becoming increasingly popular. This activity is concentrated at the reefs by the Marine Park Center and the Langkawi Coral Pontoon, a private facility owned by Langkawi Saga Travel and Tours (formerly known as Langkawi Coral).

The influx of large number of visitors and their activities can cause direct physical damage to the fragile coral reefs, besides causing pollution of various sorts.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWFM), given the influx of tourists to the Pulau Payar Marine Park, further efforts to increase tourism development and related activities, are not recommended. They will only cause more damage to the fragile ecosystem, the very attraction that pulls the tourists to Pulau Payar. If this were to happen, Pulau Payar will lose its beauty and eventually no visitor will come.

What possible damage can be done to the Pulau Payar ecosystem? The main sources of the potential damage include:

  • Damage to the coral reefs
  • Space limitation (or simply crowding) experienced by visitors
  • Inadequacy of facilities, especially toilets
  • Sewage and solid waste disposal
  • Reduced visitor satisfaction

1 Much of the information here is obtained from the WWF, Malaysia, and our own observation on the island during our data collection phase.

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