Preferences For Outdoor Recreation:
The Case Of Pulau Payar Visitors
Ahmad Mahdzan Ayob
Shamsul Bahrain Rawi
Siti Aznor Ahmad
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
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