Langkawi Island’s remoteness from the mainland has to a large extent, prevented modern development and industries from dominating the land.
Hence, other than the low-lying terrain on the main island of Langkawi which has been converted for traditional agriculture over the last 200 years; the rest of the land is still in much pristine condition. Current development are limited to the marble quarry, recent additions of infrastructures like road, airport runaway extensions, cable car, resorts and chalets to cater for mass tourism industries. Fortunately, traffic density is still low.
At the moment there is only the Payar Island which is under protection status as Marine Park, but the forest within Langkawi are under Forest Reserved status. There are also plans in the future, to develop Pulau Singa Besar complete with a geological park, wildlife and marine park by the government.
The main island covers an area of 939 squares kilometers. The other five large islands are Pulau Dayang Bunting, Pulau Tuba, Pulau Singa Besa, Pulau Langgung and the rest are small islands and islet. Boating and sailing among these islands provide very scenic impressions as most of them are flanked by grant towering masses of limestone, quartzite and granite outcrop. Except for Langkawi, Dayang Bunting and Tuba , most other island are generally is inhibited for most of the year.
The Langkawi Island consist of four main rock formations, namely:
Setul Formations, mostly limestone
Singa Formation, mainly limestone and shale
Chuping Formation, dolomitic limestone (youngest)
Other than the formations-presence of igneous rock granite intrusion and alluvium.
Limestone is the prominent rock type, rising imposingly from the sea dated back to the Carboniferous era. They are part of the formation found in North Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Thailand, Burma and Indochina. Langkawi is famous for the high quality marbles. In the middle of the western central region of Pulau Langkawi is a massif of granite intrusion, the highest point at 881 meter above sea level, being Gunung Raya, which is topped by a satellite station. Towards the northwest, there is the aesthetically long serrated quartzite ridge forming five peaks clad with rainforest, which is aptly called Gunung Machinchang which mean “the chopped up mountain” and have the oldest rock formations in Malaysia. There are also isolate pockets of exposed sedimentary rock where fossils have been located. The oldest trace fossil to be ever found in Malaysia was collected from a siltstone bed of Upper Cambrian (about 500 million years old) on the northwest coast. Indeed the Langkawi archipelago is geologically very interesting.
The climatic patterns are similar to the northern mainland with a distict and pronounced dry season from November to march annually. Two indistinct wet seasons occur during the rest of the year at around April to May and August to October. The daytime temperature is higher during the dry periods. Coupled with the sunshine, Langkawi is an excellent place for water –related activities.
Largely due to the climatic pattern from the rest of Malaysia, and isolation from the Mainland, Langkawi region is floristically and faunistically distinct from the rest of the country. There are therefore, many unique plant and animal species and sub-species that are found only in Langkawi. Due to the prolonged dry spells, there are also many physiological and ecological phenomena that are characteristic of the region. For example, there is an annually recurring flowering season around april when many of the tress and shrubs burst into bloom.
The island are immensely rich in plant life and there are still many highly diverse and relativity undisturbed habitat. Previous records show the presence of at least 500 vascular plant species belonging to 125 families (Chin, 1973), of which 30 species are endemic. Local traditional medicine practitioners are aware of the rich source of herbal plants. The island is famed for its wild orchid varieties. Unfortunately, there has been some indiscriminate and widespread commercial exploitation in the past and which nearly wiped out some of the attractive species such as the slipper orchid Paphiopedalum niveum and the epiphytic Phalaenopsis pulcherrima.
The vegetation on the island is very much influence by the geology. The granite central and eastern regions are covered with tall dipterocarp forests, which are still primary, while on the limestone and quartz hills, carbonate-loving specialists dominate. There are not as diverse but nonetheless fascinating in terms of specializes plants species that are endemic there. Other forest types are those bordering the rocky coast and sandy beaches, mangroves along the river and estuaries, as well as secondary forests bordering agriculture land.
With so many habitats, inclusive of the agricultural areas and forest types it is no wonder that there are 260 species of land and sea birds totaling more than United Kingdom. As for mammals, there are no large predators, consisting only of 32 species of small mammals that in the absence of predators, flourish there, like the mousedeer of which two species are reported. The butterflies also, are extremely diverse, with over 250 species recorded, with many rare species and sub species.
Caves and sinkhole lakes like the Dayang Bunting Lake are some of the other sensitive habitats on the Islands. Lakes and cave, flora and fauna, such as bats, fish and invebrates, are yet to be fully inventorized.
Offshore, excellent coral reefs fringe many of the islands in crystal clear water for most part of the year. Beach combing along the water’s edge will reveal that there are many coastal zones such as mangroves, rocky coast, mud flats and fine sandy beaches, each of these zones having different ecological patterns and riches dominated by different species.
Tourism has played a major role in the current development of the Langkawi Island. The increasing visitor in recent years has contributed a lot to the socio economy of the islander. In order to ensure the overall long term environmental and economic sustainability of the Langkawi islands for the tourism industry, a continues effort is needed to gather, compile, and analyze the data or information on all facets related to the island is crucial particularly in managing and monitoring its terrestrial and marine ecosystems.