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Banggi Island, Malaysia
Banggi Island, Malaysia (Image by

Banggi Island, Malaysia

Malaysia's largest island, with an area of 440 sq km, Pulau Banggi is off the northeast coast of Sabah. It was finally recognized as belonging to Malaysia, after years of dispute with the Philippine Government. The inhabitants are comprised of Bonngi, who speak a unique form of Bornean dialect, and the Orang sama, or Sea Gypsies.

Banggi is sparsely populated — there are just fifteen villages, renowned for their traditional tribal tree houses. Visitors may stay at a small Government Rest House, but in other respects there are few concessions to tourism here — there are no shops, TV or Internet access, and travel around the island is difficult.

Banggi is positioned where the Pacifie and Indian Ocean biospheres meet and its great ecological significance is enhaneced by the fact that the reefs are still undamaged by the destructive fishing methods that have despoiled many other southenst Asian sites. Fortunately, this is recognized, and Banngi is now part of a conservation area that covers a rich mix of habitat — reefs, sea grass, open sea and mangroves — where endangered species such as sea turtle and dugongs live.

Diving from these reefs is particularly rewarding — the water is warm and clear and, as well as many coral-dwelling fish, octopus, giant clams, sponges, crinoids and marine algae can be seen. Projects to improve the living standards of the islanders are also underway; the establishment of a commercial rubber plantation, and ‘seaplant farming’, an initiative by the University of Malayasia at Sabah for seaweed cultivation, will offer alternative livelihoods to the people of Banggi.