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Pulau Tioman (Pulau is Malay for Island) is the largest island on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It is located in the South China Sea, approximately 32 km from Mersing, the closest mainland port. Measuring some 22 km long and 11 km at the widest point, the island has a total land area of 133.6 sq. km.
Pulau Tioman now belongs to the state of Pahang in Peninsular Malaysia. In its early history, Pulau Tioman was known as a stopover for sailors, fishermen and traders to get fresh water and firewood or simply for evading storms. The island was a settlement for Malay fishermen several hundred years ago and there are now six major kampungs (villages) on the island, mainly on the west coast. The number of villagers is now some 2,650, most of who were originally fishermen from Pahang or Johor. Rubber and coconut are the main crops planted on the flat coastal area.
Tioman has beautiful beaches with surrounding marine areas. The landscape and the beauty of the island have attracted many tourists, locally as well as from abroad, and the island was once voted one of the 10 most beautiful in the world. In addition to fishing activities, tourism has become a very important income generating activity on the island. Many tourist facilities such as chalets, rest houses and hotels have been built, either by the state government or the private sector. While it is fair to say that development over the last 10 years has had some adverse impact on the islands' environment, it remains a beautiful and restful place.
Apart from beautiful beaches and marine ecosystems, Tioman has also been gazetted as a wildlife reserve by the state government to protect its flora and fauna. This gazzetement was done on 28 September 1972 for the inland forest area encompassing 12,383 ha, but in 1994 part of this area was excised for agriculture development and tourism activities.
The marine area around Pulau Tioman and eight other nearby islands have also been gazzetted as marine parks and marine reserves, confined to an area two nautical miles from the coast. The establishment of the marine parks and reserves is to conserve and protect marine flora and fauna such as fishes, coral reefs and aquatic floras from being destroyed by fishing and other human activities.
It is thought that Tioman was only separated from the mainland 10,000 years ago, before which much of South East Asia was dry land, with sea levels about 300 feet lower than current depths. Today, most of the island is covered by tropical rain forest dating from the last ice age, with hilly topography, inland forest and small flat land areas along the coast. Walking over the island through the jungle is a popular activity for visitors. Pulau Tioman is underlaid by volcanic, plutonic and contact metamorphic rocks. The volcanic rocks occur mainly on the eastern, northern and southern parts of the island.
Part of the island coastal area is made up of rocky, sandy beaches. Several river systems coming from the hilly-forested areas represent the main supply of fresh water to the villagers. Small patches of mangrove swamp forests are also found on the western part of the island.
Some 45 species of mammals are found on the island. These include some protected species, such as binturong, long-tailed macaque, slow loris, black giant squirrel, brush-tailed porcupine, red-giant flying squirrel, common palm civet and mouse deer.
There are 138 species of birds recorded on the island, the most common of which is the hill myna. Two species of swifltets (the black-nest and grey-rumped) are the most important economic birds on the island: in the past, the villagers collected the nests of these birds from caves on the island for sale.
In addition to this diversity, the island has several unique species of mammals, freshwater fish and plants, including catfish, rodents, crab, stick insects and butterflies.
It is the sea which attracts many visitors to Tioman, particularly divers, who come to enjoy the warm clear waters. The reefs around Tioman and the neighbouring islands, which radio-carbon dating shows are nearly 6,000 years old, have many varieties of coral and tropical reef fish, as well as larger species such as turtles and sharks. The rare giant clam is also found here.
Immortalised as the fictitious paradise Bali Hai in the 1960's box-office hit musical 'South Pacific', many myths and legends surround the island. The most popular one holds that the island is a dragon and the two high peaks on the south of the island are the 'Chula Naga' or dragon's horns. There are two versions of the legend. One says that the mighty dragon Sri Gumom was attempting to fly from Pahang to visit its sister but Sri Rama, the Dragon king, prohibited its trip and turned Sri Gumon into stone. The dragon fell into the sea and there remains. Another version goes that there was a beautiful dragon princess flying from Singapore to China to her wedding. She stopped for a rest in the South China Sea where the gentle water lapped at her sides and the sun warmed her back and she was so happy there, that she turned herself into an island to stay forever.
Whether it is the sandy beaches, the coral reefs, the pristine rainforest or the myths and legends of its past that attracts visitors, there is no doubt that Tioman is a jewel in the South China Sea.
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