The Physical Geography of Malaysia

Malaysia is well endowed with a diverse range of environmental resources. Although the forested land in the late 20th century stands at only 59 per cent of its original, it nevertheless remains one of the best preserved in the world. Being the oldest and most complex tropical rainforest ecosystem, it has become the focus of international attention and a strong pull for both tourists and researchers.

Malaysia’s geology is likewise of renown. The land and sea are not only rich in mineral resources but also offer some diverse and spectacular topographical formations.

Malaysia is mountainous. In Peninsular Malaysia, the Main Range or Banjaran Titiwangsa divides the western from the eastern parts like a rugged spine, as it runs from the Thai border southwards to Negeri Sembilan. In Sabah, the Crocker Range, averaging between 450 and 900 metres in height, separates the narrow lowland of the northwest coast from the interior. Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia and in Southeast Asia, is located in the Crocker Range. Sarawak boasts the mighty Rajang River and the subterranean calcium carbonate formations—stalactites and stalagmites—of the Mulu Caves. Limestone also characterizes the geography of the Langkawi Islands and the vertical-sided hills of Pahang, Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan. The geological features and their rock and soil foundations are eroded and weathered by the tropical climate and over long periods of geological time are further transformed.

Other significant physical features include Malaysia’s shoreline and coasts, river systems and estuaries, islands, mangroves and peatswamps. The coastal wetlands are extremely important for migrant birds, providing them with a sheltered, nutrient-rich base when they arrive from long, exhausting flights. The peatswamp forests at first seem hostile to flora and fauna, but they support a rich selection of wildlife. Extensive mangrove vegetation along the coast helps prevent erosion and simultaneously builds up new land formations by trapping sand and mud sediments. The islands and the sandy beaches of Malaysia are among the best in the world, and the complex offshore coral reefs are among the richest ecosystems on earth.

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