Malaysia Geographies


Malaysia is the 67th largest country by total land area, with a land area of 329,847 km2 (127,355 sq mi). It has land borders with Thailand in West Malaysia, and Indonesia and Brunei in East Malaysia. It is linked to Singapore by a narrow causeway and a bridge. The country also has maritime boundaries with Vietnam and the Philippines. The land borders are defined in large part by geological features such as the Perlis River, the Golok River and the Pagalayan Canal, whilst some of the maritime boundaries are the subject of ongoing contention. Brunei forms what is almost an enclave in Malaysia, with the state of Sarawak dividing it into two parts. Malaysia is the only country with territory on both the Asian mainland and the Malay archipelago. Tanjung Piai, located in the southern state of Johor, is the southernmost tip of continental Asia. The Strait of Malacca, lying between Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia, is one of the most important thoroughfares in global commerce, carrying 40 per cent of the world’s trade.
Redang Island, the country features numerous islands with other islands mainly concentrated in Sabah on the Malaysian Borneo.
The two parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both Peninsular and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to hills and mountains. Peninsular Malaysia, containing 40 per cent of Malaysia’s land area, extends 740 km (460 mi) from north to south, and its maximum width is 322 km (200 mi). It is divided between its east and west coasts by the Titiwangsa Mountains, part of a series of mountain ranges running down the centre of the peninsula. These mountains are heavily forested, and mainly composed of granite and other igneous rocks. Much of it has been eroded, creating a karst landscape. The range is the origin of some of Peninsular Malaysia’s river systems. The coastal plains surrounding the peninsula reach a maximum width of 50 kilometres (31 mi), and the peninsula’s coastline is nearly 1,931 km (1,200 mi) long, although harbours are only available on the western side.
A view of Crocker Range where Mount Kinabalu is situated.
East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, has a coastline of 2,607 km (1,620 mi). It is divided between coastal regions, hills and valleys, and a mountainous interior. The Crocker Range extends northwards from Sarawak, dividing the state of Sabah. It is the location of the 4,095.2 m (13,436 ft) high Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia. Mount Kinabalu is protected as the Kinabalu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highest mountain ranges form the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. Sarawak contains the Mulu Caves, the largest cave system in the world.
Around these two halves of Malaysia are numerous islands, the largest of which is Banggi. The local climate is equatorial and characterised by the annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons. The temperature is moderated by the presence of the surrounding oceans. Humidity is usually high, and the average annual rainfall is 250 cm (98 in). The climates of the Peninsula and the East differ, as the climate on the peninsula is directly affected by wind from the mainland, as opposed to the more maritime weather of the East. Local climates can be divided into three regions, highland, lowland, and coastal. Climate change is likely to affect sea levels and rainfall, increasing flood risks and leading to droughts.
Logging, along with cultivation practices has devastated tree cover, causing severe environmental degradation in the country. Over 80 per cent of Sarawak’s rainforest has been cleared. Floods in East Malaysia have been worsened by the loss of trees, and over 60 per cent of the Peninsular’s forest have been cleared. With current rates of deforestation, the forests are predicted to be extinct by 2020. Deforestation is a major problem for animals, fungi and plants, as the forest is cut to make room for plantations. Most remaining forest is found inside national parks. Habitat destruction has proved a threat for marine life. Illegal fishing is another major threat, with fishing methods such as dynamite fishing and poisoning depleting marine ecosystems. Leatherback turtle numbers have dropped 98 per cent since the 1950s. Hunting has also been an issue for some animals, with overconsumption and the use of animal parts for profit endangering many animals, from marine life to tigers. Marine life is also detrimentally affected by uncontrolled tourism.
The Malaysian government aims to balance economic growth with environmental protection, but has been accused of favouring big business over the environment. Some state governments are now trying to counter the environmental impact and pollution created by deforestation; and the federal government is trying to cut logging by 10 per cent each year. 28 national parks have been established; 23 in East Malaysia and five in the Peninsular. Tourism has been limited in biodiverse areas such as Sipadan island. Animal trafficking is a large issue, and the Malaysian government is holding talks with the governments of Brunei and Indonesia to standardise anti-trafficking laws.