Johor’s beautiful islands are nature’s ultimate playgrounds and they are just waiting to be discovered
Whether with family and friends, or even alone, nothing sounds more peaceful than the promise of a beautiful sandy beach and stunning vistas of the sea. Situated along the North eastern coast of the State of Johor, the humble jetty of Mersing serves tirelessly as the main ferry departure point for a plethora of paradisiacal islands and breath-taking dive spots.
One of its many natural charms is Taman Laut Sultan Iskandar, which is made up of 13 islands in six island clusters, namely Besar, Rawa, Tinggi, Sibu, Pemanggil, and Aur Islands. Gazetted as a Marine Park, these islands are a popular destination for divers as well as seaside lovers.
The nearest of the islands reachable from Mersing Jetty, Pulau Besar is characterised by its stretches of powdery white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Formerly known as Pulau Babi Besar or Big Boar Island, reportedly due to wild boars which once roamed the island, the island offers a number of activities, including diving and snorkelling, jungle trekking and day trips to neighbouring islands Tengah and Hujong.
Pulau Rawa is an idyllic coral island popular for its white-sand beaches and picturesque waters. The local term for white doves, “Rawa” are abundant on this relatively small island, hence its name. Flanked by a sandy beach on one side and a rocky vertical cliff on the other, an abundance of wildlife can be found on the island and within the waters that surround it. Adventurous day trips can be made to the uninhabited islands of Harimau and Mensirip, both of which serve as ideal spots for diving and snorkelling.
A sheltered harbour, long coastline, and white sandy beaches dotted with caves are just part of the draw of Pulau Tinggi. Home to extinct volcano Mount Semundu, Pulau Tinggi has the highest peak in its cluster, the view from which is well worth the hike. Surrounded by colourful coral reefs, Pulau Tinggi’s clear waters teem with diverse marine life, offering 12 dive and four snorkelling spots. The island also shelters a turtle hatchery making it a popular place for spotting these sea creatures.
Made up of several charming islands, namely Sibu Besar, Sibu Tengah, Sibu Kukus and Sibu Hujung, this cluster has retained its natural beauty, boasting azure waters, spectacular coral reefs and vibrant marine life. The main island of Sibu Besar offers a wide range of resorts, as well as a variety of diving and snorkelling hotspots, where barracuda, nudibranchs and giant clams can be spotted. Other activities include fishing, kayaking and jungle trekking, all of which reward visitors with panoramic sea views and island life vibes.
Dubbed an angler’s paradise, most fishing competitions are held at Pulau Pemanggil, which is a hotbed for the highly prized black marlin, one of the world’s fastest fish species. One of the furthest islands off the Mersing coast, the remote island is famed for its clear emerald waters, virtually untouched corals, and biodiversity, making it a diver’s haven as well.
Boasting crystal clear lagoons and an abundance of coral reefs, the remote Aur and its surrounding islands of Dayang, Lang, and Pinang are popular diving spots. Divers often see barracudas, whitetip sharks and turtles, while deep water channels between the islands can sometimes have strong currents that attract large pelagics including manta rays and whale sharks. The cluster also attracts sport fishermen looking to hook the native black marlin.
With such an ample choice of stunning destinations, as well as abundant activities both above and below the surface, it comes as no surprise that Mersing is often referred to as The Gateway to Paradise. In order for visitors to continue enjoying the beauty and biodiversity of Johor’s gorgeous Marine Park, various initiatives have been launched to conserve the habitat and marine life in this area.
The gazetted area of Taman Laut Sultan Iskandar is in the process of being transformed into an eco-tourism underwater park, which will see multiple artificial reefs installed in phases. Besides attracting divers, they will be used to research coral growth, in the hopes of creating a healthier underwater ecosystem.
Some attractions that have already been installed include the biggest artificial coral reef in Malaysia measuring at 5.5m tall, 10.6m long and 9.3m wide. The reef is located off Pulau Mensirip and is modelled after the Sultan Ibrahim Building with the Iskandar Puteri City Council logo on top.
Additionally, the first underwater Royal post box and Tunku Laksamana Corals Garden, the first man-made coral garden in the country has also been installed in the island’s surrounding waters. This initiative was a collaborative effort between Pos Malaysia Berhad and the Johor state government.
For the moment, most of these diving spots are not open to the public yet, but since the introduction of artificial reefs, the population of corals and fish in the area has seen an increase of 30%. In time, these areas will undoubtedly add to the appeal of this thriving marine eco-system.