Thematic Issues
Island biodiversity
© JTLM

Islands and their surrounding near-shore marine areas constitute unique ecosystems often comprising many plant and animal species that are endemic—found nowhere else on Earth. They are also key to the livelihood, economy, well-being and cultural identity of 600 million islanders—one-tenth of world population.

Island species are also unique in their vulnerability: of the 724 recorded animal extinctions in the last 400 years, about half were island species. Over the past century, island biodiversity has been subject to intense pressure from invasive alien species, habitat change and over-exploitation, and, increasingly, from climate change and pollution. This pressure is also keenly felt by island economies.

Among the most vulnerable of the developing countries, small island developing States (SIDS) depend on the conservation and sustainable use of island biodiversity for their sustainable development.

Malaysia's large and accessible islands have a long history of exploration and utilization. The Island of Penang is actually the second most densely populated state in the country, second in population density only to the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur. The side of the island facing the mainland has undergone complete urbanization to meet residential, trade, manufacturing, industrial and international shipping needs.

The northern shores of the island have been heavily developed to meet the booming beach hotel business while the southern parts of the island have been developed as an economic free-trade zone to attract investments in the form of electronics, semiconductor, and other light to medium industries. However, in addition to having the oldest Botanic Gardens in the country, the island now boasts Malaysia’s newest and smallest National Park.

Many of the larger and more accessible islands including Langkawi, Pangkor, Tioman and Redang all have either airports or airstrips, and all are utilized by the sizable marine fishing industry as well as both the local and international tourism industry.

The attractiveness of these islands for tourism has put increasing developmental pressure on these islands and has raised concerns about the impact of human activity on fragile coastal habitats such as coral reefs and turtle landing beaches.

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