Payar Island is one of the many islands off mainland Kedah in the Strait of Malacca. It is situated south of Langkawi, a more famous archipelago. Payar Island status as a marine park offers protection for its diverse marine life. Payar Island is also a snorkelling and diving site famous for its corals.
The Payar Island 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 Payar, Lembu, Segantang and 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, Payar Island is the most popular of the islands as its sheltered waters are ideal are for snorkelling, 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 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 Payar Island from the Kuah jetty point by catamaran or speed boat. The catamaran services operated by Langkawi Coral, takes about 45 minutes to get to Payar Island 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 2 November 2010, Payar Island Marine Park is just a shadow of its former self. Due to excessive carrying capacity and persistently extreme sea water temperatures for the last six months, the Payar Island Marine Park suffered from widespread coral bleaching at a critical level. The corals there are now dull whitish-grey/black and not the bright rainbow of colours they once were. Even marine life density around the area has been recorded to be significantly lesser compared to previous years.
The Department of Marine Park Kedah has taken drastic action by closing the affected areas in order to minimize human aggravated stress on the corals. The closed areas are the Payar Marine Park Center and the infamous Coral Garden. No snorkeling and diving activities are allowed in these areas up till today.
The mass bleaching became even more severe by 2016 due to the prolonged El Nino phenomenon which started in mid 2015 affecting more than half the reefs in Thailand and Peninsular Malaysian waters.