Rising 600 meters from the seabed, Sipadan is the only oceanic island found in Malaysia. Formed by corals growing on top of a volcanic cone, the island is home to a huge variety of species that inhabit its waters and land, attracting divers and wildlife enthusiasts for many decades.
Oceanic islands are those islands that do not depend on continental shelves. They are surrounded by vast stretches of deep water and their temperature usually stays the same during every season of the year. This is a key factor that allows a variety of unusual species of animals and marine life to develop on this type of island. The other aspect that has such an influence is the fact that most oceanic islands are volcanic in origin.
Just like many other oceanic islands, Sipadan rose from the sea as a result of volcanic activity. The volcanic cone that practically created the island has been silent for a very long time, allowing the plants and wildlife to thrive. The nature of volcanic soil usually has unique properties that lead to the development of a great variety of species that could not survive in any other place.
The growth of vegetation and fauna doesn’t happen overnight of course. It took hundreds of years before the first corals and plant life formed on the island. Until then, as it happens for most volcanic islands, the environment was uninhabitable.
The Wildlife of Sipadan
Because of the unique way in which it has formed, an abundance of rare marine and wildlife has developed on the island’s surface and in the waters surrounding it. Besides the incredibly rich and colorful corals and fish, as well as the turtles that have made the island famous in the late 20th century, many types of rare and beautiful species can also be found on the beaches and hidden beneath the lush plant life.
On the surface, most of the fauna that can be found today is represented by birds. The white-collared kingfishers, sea eagles or sunbirds are only a few of the main attractions that the island can offer. The many types of birds have even earned Sipadan the title of "bird sanctuary" in 1933.
The land is also inhabited by many colorful and intriguing looking creatures. A couple of noteworthy examples are the monitor lizards and coconut crabs. Some of the specimens of these species can grow to quite large sizes.
The Danger of Extinction
Unfortunately, the flora and fauna found on oceanic islands are very vulnerable to extinction, more so than in the case of any other habitat in the world. The animals and plants can be particularly defenseless when people bring outer influences such as pet animals. Flightless or ground nesting birds can be easily overpowered by pet cats for example.
This is the main reason why tourism and diving schedules on the island of Sipadan had to be controlled. The measures that were taken in the past few years concerning this issue might seem too strict to some but it may be the only way to preserve this beautiful and rich environment.