Top 5: A Geographer's journey to the Mangroves.

Kilim Geoforest Park is located on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia. Langkawi is a stunning and beautiful tropical island in the Straits of Malacca, close to the border with Thailand.

In 2007, the island was given World Geopark status (UNESCO) due to its unique ‘geological heritage’; from towering limestone karsts to sandstone outcrops, marble, shale and mudstone. Langkawi has not found it easy to retain its accreditation due to ongoing conflicts between conservation and the growth of tourism that the economy of the island is so reliant on.

Kilim Geoforest Park is a protected area located in the north-east of the island. The combination of beautiful scenery, mangroves and incredible wildlife make this one of my all-time favourite places to visit for school field trips and personal holidays. Every time I visit, I see something new and learn more about this unique environment.

Here are my top 5 geographical wonders of Kilim Geoforest.

1. Mangroves

Mangroves are plants that grow in the intertidal zone. They have adapted to withstand extreme conditions of high salinity, strong tides, gusty winds, high temperatures and muddy anaerobic soils. Located firmly in the tropics at a latitude of 6°N and in a sheltered river estuary, Kilim Geoforest Park provides the ideal conditions for the growth of these unique coastal ecosystems.

Adaptations seen here include prop roots for stabilisation, pencil roots for breathing, methods of salt removal through reverse osmosis, and unique adaptations of seeds so that they can float and stick into the mu

2. Wildlife

The fauna within the park is breathtaking. Over my 6 visits to the park, I have been fortunate enough to have always spotted something new. Just some of the wildlife I’ve been lucky enough to see here includes:

- The iconic white-bellied sea eagle

- The Brahminy Kite

- Fiddler crabs that pop in and out of their homes in the mud.

- Long-tailed Macaque

- Pied Hornbill

- Sea Otters

- Dolphins

- Snakes

- Bats

- And many species of butterfly

3. Geology

The majority of the rock of Kilim is made up of the Setul Formation which consists of the oldest limestone in Malaysia that was formed between 505-390 million years ago. Post formation, around 220 million years ago, the entire seafloor was uplifted. Since then, rainwater dissolution and wave erosion have produced the incredible limestone scenery (karsts). Nearly vertical towers, surrounded by narrow gorges and valleys, help to create a dramatic and stunning landscape. This is one of the few places in the world that combines limestone karst landscapes with mangrove forests.

4. Tourism

Tourism is a vital and growing sector of the island’s economy. There has been a 44% increase in visitor numbers over the last decade. Around 2300 tourist boats travel through the Geoforest every month. Unfortunately, this is placing stress on this unique and delicate ecosystem.

Firstly, boats travelling at speed generate significant waves that can result in riverbank erosion. This has been clearly evident on every one of my own visits, with boat drivers keen to please their customers by driving at breakneck speeds and in my opinion, often driving dangerously. This impacts upon mangrove trees that are delicately balanced in the unconsolidated swamplands.

Furthermore, tourists feed the animals. Monkeys will often jump onto tourist boats. The white-bellied sea eagle and Brahminy kite are fed chicken skin so that they dive next to boats for the perfect photo opportunity. However, this leads to imbalances in the ecosystem.

Eagles no longer need to feed naturally and there has been an increase in snakes in the area. Also, chicken skin is not a natural food source and it impacts on the quality of the eggs they lay, often weakening their structure.

Monkeys can be aggressive towards tourists due to their expectations for receiving food. Once again, tour operators appear keen to impress the tourists by getting them the perfect Instagram pic. Personally, I don’t think that the feeding of wild animals in a protected and managed area is appropriate. One man on the tourist boat during my recent trip was regularly goading the monkeys by pulling faces at them and stomping his foot to get a reaction. It was sad to see.

Finally, the growth of fish farms in the mangroves in order to feed tourists is resulting in the removal of fish from the ecosystem and further land clearance.

5. Sustainability

On a more positive note, the area is working towards a better balance between economy and environment through the Geoforest Management Plan. Boats have been instructed to travel at 6 knots or slower, with a maximum length of 27 feet. Furthermore, the park is keen to promote its many wonders and opened a discover centre for education in August 2019. However, from the evidence, the positive rules and actions that are down on paper are not always translated into reality.

Finally, I came away from my most recent tour feeling a mixture of emotions. Kilim Geoforest Park is stunning and the flora, fauna and landscape are truly breathtaking. However, respect for this ecosystem was below my expectations. A significant number of boat tours go out daily and this could be a fantastic opportunity to educate visitors about the importance of mangrove ecosystems, the threats to them and how they can be maintained. Tourists would still be blown away by the stunning scenery and the abundance of wildlife.

Link to my lesson on Mangroves (this website)

Link to my lesson on Mangroves (Teacher Pay Teachers)

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