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Pulau Payar is one of the many islands off mainland Kedah in the Strait of Malacca. It is situated south of Langkawi, a more famous archipelago. Pulau Payar's status as a marine park offers protection for its diverse marine life. Pulau Payar is also a snorkeling and diving site famous for its corals.
The Pulau Payar Marine Park is situated in the northern part of the Straits of Melaka, 19 nautical miles (35 km) south of Langkawi and encompasses the islands of Pulau Payar, Pulau Lembu, Pulau Segantang and Pulau Kaca which are surrounded by coral reefs. The marine park teems with a diversity of marine life and vegetation.
Many endangered species of fishes and marine organisms live within the sanctuary. Measuring 2 km long and 1/4 km wide, Pulau Payar is the most popular of the islands as its sheltered waters are ideal are for snorkeling, diving and swimming. Among the dive spots is the "Coral Garden", an area covered with bright, multi-hued soft corals.
There are several sandy beaches on Pulau Payar island for picnics as well as hiking trails for those who wish to explore the island. Just off the beach, one can indulge in the experience of feeding baby sharks. Facilities include gazebos, picnic tables, barbecue pits and restrooms at selected areas. There is also a Visitors' Centre that provides information about the marine park. Pulau Payar Marine Park Scuba diving is popular, even with the recent coal bleaching, and still very good. There are plenty of coral dive sites and a wide variety of marine life.
Visitors can get to Pulau Payar from the Kuah jetty point by catamaran or speed boat. The catamaran services operated by Langkawi Coral, takes about 45 minutes to get to Pulau Payar while the speed boat takes an hour. It is advisable to book the catamaran service a day before the trip. Enquiries can be made with any travel agent in Kuah or at the jetty point for those intending to travel by speed boat. Apart from the fare, a levy of RM5.00 for adults and RM2.50 for children is charged for entry to the marine park.
As of November 2, 2010, Pulau Payar Marine Park is just a shadow of its former self. Due to excessive carrying capacity and persistently extreme sea temperatures for the last six months, the Marine Park is suffering from excessive coral bleaching at critical level. The corals are now a dull grey/black, not the rainbow of colors they once were.
The Jabatan Taman Laut Negeri Kedah (Department of Marine Park Kedah) has taken action by closing the affected areas. The areas are Marine Park Center and Coral Garden. No activities are allowed in these areas.
The bleaching is widespread this year affecting more than half the reefs around Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia.