Pulau Kukup ('pulau' means 'island' in the Malay language), an island located one kilometre off the southwestern tip of the state of Johor in Peninsular Malaysia, is to be gazetted as a mangrove forest reserve by this year.
Reputed to be the world's largest mangrove island, Pulau Kukup is also a candidate for Malaysia's second Wetland of International Importance. The first Ramsar site is Tasek Bera in Pahang. The state government has engaged Wetlands International - Asia Pacific to undertake a detailed study to support its application for permanent wetland status for the 1,298-hectare island, including 650 hectares of mudflats.
Pulau Kukup is unique for its extensive open mudflat area. Mudflats serve as an important stopover and feeding ground for migratory birds, due to the presence of mollusc species such as crabs, snails and shrimps. These represent a food source for many birds. About 450 kinds of birds, including five shorebird species have been identified on the island. The island is also a breeding ground for the Lesser Adjutant Stork (Leptotilus Javanicus) which is listed as vulnerable in the Red List of Threatened Animals.
In its quest for permanent wetland status, the island enjoys the advantage of a strategic location along the path of migratory birds. A variety of large and small birds such as the Chinese Harrot and Green Harrot fly about 5,000km from China and Siberia to the island. Bird enthusiasts can view these birds nesting on the island between September and April.
Reptilian, amphibian and mammalian species also live in the island's mangrove forest. A huge population of monkeys, wild pigs, snakes and fish, including a variety of the mudskipper which measures more than 50 centimetres in length, abound.
The island is divided into four zones - the mudflats, coastal mangrove area, slightly elevated ground in the interior and the central region of mixed vegetation. The 10-metre Rhizophora apiculata mangrove trees and the 20-metre Sonneratia alba trees grow in the coastal area. Other mangrove species found on the island include the Rhizophora mucronata, Bruguiera gymnorhiza and Bruguiera cylindrica.
The state government's decision to gazette the island as a national park is a positive effort towards protecting and enhancing the mangrove habitat, which is threatened by development, pollution and reclamation activities.
Pulau Kukup has suffered from unplanned development and reclamation of the Kukup waterfront villages by fishermen. The villages with about 200 illegal houses built on reclaimed mangrove swamp land are not within the local district council's jurisdiction. Thus, it is without a proper waste disposal system and residents dump their garbage into the sea, causing serious pollution.
Another source of pollution is the 70 fish farms cradled in the sheltered waters between the Kukup shoreline and Pulau Kukup. The island is also hit by ships dumping sludge and numerous oil slicks.
Yet, Pulau Kukup retains much of its natural charms. During high tide, it is submerged except for 40 per cent of the forest canopy, causing the trees to appear to be "floating" in the sea. During low tide, the mudflats surrounding the island are totally exposed. The island has enormous potential for eco-tourism and facilities are also being planned for visitors on educational or scientific research trips.
It is hoped that with the new status as mangrove forest reserve, the charms of the island of Kukup will be preserved for generations to come.
- reported by Wetlands International - Asia Pacific News, 1 June 1998