Malaysia moves to mark uninhabited isles

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's state governments have been told to immediately name and gazette uninhabited islands as well as coral and rocky reefs, atolls and shelves under their jurisdiction.

The Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry said this was to ensure that Malaysia can stake its claim to territorial waters, and the economic resources in them.

States have been told to place border stones or boundary markers to establish ownership, according to the revised provisions published in the "Guidelines on the Planning and Physical Development of Islands and Marine Parks".

There are reportedly 535 islands out of a total of 879 in Malaysia that do not have a clearly demarcated status. In 2011, then Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Joseph Kurup said all the remaining unnamed islands in Malaysia would be gazetted by June 2011 but that has yet to happen .

In all, 220 of the 418 islands located in the peninsula are known to be uninhabited, according to records from Malaysia's Survey and Mapping Department and the National Hydrography Centre.

An estimated 42 islands in Johor and 34 islands off Kelantan are said to be ungazetted, said the authorities. The status of 392 islands that reportedly belong to Sabah and 67 islands off Sarawak is also unclear.

Malaysia's move comes in the wake of fears that China is increasingly laying claim to most of the South China Sea. Several of its claims have led to disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei.

The new guidelines are also aimed at addressing the effects of climate change and the rise in sea levels, as well as protecting natural habitats and countering increasing threats to coastal areas, according to the publication. For instance, more stringent conditions have been introduced on proposed development on the islands, such as the construction of houses, hotels and chalets along the beach, highlands, rivers and mangrove areas.

New regulations include prohibiting the construction of new residential projects in areas that could be exposed to tsunamis.

Key facilities required during an emergency, such as hospitals, fire and rescue stations, airports, schools, community centres and district offices must also be built far away from coastal areas.

The guidelines also impose more stringent rules regarding the construction of golf courses, theme parks, recreational clubs, marinas and jetties.

For instance, the building of golf courses and theme parks in marine parks and uninhabited islands will be prohibited. Only resorts will be allowed to build golf courses.

"There should be a balance to physical development and protecting the environment without jeopardising an island's natural attraction," the ministry guidelines said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysia moves to mark uninhabited isles'. Print Edition | Subscribe