Tuesday, 08 February, 2022 10:24:05 AM

Sabah Islands > Layang Layang Island

Layang Layang
Layang Layang Island
Layang-Layang Atoll

Layang-Layang or "Swallow Reefs" is an oceanic atoll, which lies about 300km north of Labuan near the famous Spratly group of islands. It is a world class diving and fishing paradise. Some rate it as a "Big fish and wall diving Mecca of Southeast Asia".
Its coral walls plunge and staggering 2000 metres down to the floor of the South China Sea. Its warm waters are crystal clear with visibility averaging underwater world. Large shoals of pelagics, including massive numbers of barracuda, jacks and the hammerhead shark frequent these waters. By one tour operator account, an awesome school of hammerhead sharks numbering a hundred regularly visit Layang-Layang. Manta rays with fin spans of over 10 feet are also found here. Other residents include the Napoleon Wrasse, Hawksbill turtles, Dog tooth tuna, Giant hammerhead wrasse and the White tip reef sharks.
The atoll has a 1,067 metres airstrip and a comfortable 90 rooms three-star resort. Every room is air conditioned with private amenities and comes equipped with TV, fridge, extra size beds and a private oceanfront balcony. There is a 200 seat restaurant, full service PADI dive centre, a free form water pool and souvenir shop. This is every serious diver and angler's "must visit" island.

In the middle of ancient South China Sea, 300 kilometers North West off the coast of Sabah, Layang Layang lays like a beautiful emerald kissed by the sun and teased playfully by the winds. Time and tide has linked 13 coral reefs to form a languid lagoon with just a fraction of it breaking the calm surface of the sea. This atoll is also the home to one of the most coverted diving sites in the world.

Further north of the Luconia Shoals off Borneo, lies the atoll of Layang Layang, once called Swallow Reefs. Located 30okm off Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the reef wall drops to an amazing 2,000 metres down to the ocean floor. It is home to thousands of migratory birds, a haven to large pelagic fish such as grey reef sharks, white-tip reef sharks, hammerheads as well as large schools of barracudas and mackerels and many turtles. Exceptional visibility on reefs so pristine that giant clams here grow to the size able to envelop a human being. There is lagoon in the middle of the atoll, about ^om deep for the enjoyment of night dives and smaller critters.  

Layang Layang, formed by 13 coral reefs linked together with only a mere speck of an island visible above water, is situated 300km northwest of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. Its 1.2km x 200m island lies in what is reputed to be among the best diving spots in the world. The island is also a natural nesting ground for migrating seabirds.

The Habitat

The distribution of most living things within the animal kingdom is solely dependent upon availability of a suitable habitat. Their lives are found to be in tune with habitats which determine how the birds feed and reproduce. Malaysia is host to many different habitats, ranging from the montane vegetation of Mount Kinabalu to the mangrove swamps of the Sarawak coast, from the tropical rainforests interwoven with rivers of Peninsular and East Malaysia to the warm tropical South China Sea teaming with marine life.

Pulau Layang Layang Atoll (Layang Layang Island)

Pulau Layang Layang is a man made island built upon an oceanic atoll, in the Spratly Island Group, some 300 km off the northwest coast of Sabah at the heart of the South China Sea. Built from sand, rock and concrete some 10 years ago Pulau Layang Layang looks almost barren as you first arrive. Over the years palms, bushes and creeping vegetation have taken a fragile foothold and have added life to the island. Birds were also very quick to take advantage of this new secluded place. Not surprisingly, first amongst them were the seabirds. The huge atoll itself comprises of pristine coral reef which is so rich and diverse with marine life that a seabird does not have to look far for an abundance of food. The seabird colony, found at the west end of the island, with thousands of nesting birds can be heard long before being seen. The following images and text highlight the five main species of this avifauna, whose protection is a prime consideration of the Seas of Borneo Expedition.

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

The most abundant seabird found upon Pulau Layang Layang, the Sooty tern is a truly pelagic feeder, foraging out in the open ocean, only coming ashore to rest and breed. The Sooty tern is of medium size with black upper parts, wings and head with a white belly. Previous counts have put Pulau Layang Layang's population at over 2,000 breeding pairs. They congregate to breed at the start of June with peak nesting occurring in July, incubation being shared by both parents. Nests usually contain only one egg and chicks begin to hatch in early August. The parents take it in turn to feed their chick, one flying off to catch small fish from the surrounding sea whilst its partner shields their offspring from the relentless sun. After 2 weeks the chicks start to show their fledgling feathers and after 4 we^kg a^ready for flight. What happens to the colony after the breeding season is still unclear, but it is believed that the majority of the birds migrate to safer and more sheltered areas as the monsoon approaches.

Great Crested Tern " Sterna bergii

conspicuous by its large black crest, grayish upper parts and wings, and yellow bill it is larger than the Sooty tern. About 200 pairs are normally foun4 on Pulau Layang Layang, which, as the breeding season approaches, can be clearly seen and heard wheeling about the sky and crying out during their courtship flight. They are often found at the western end of the runway as well as washing themselves in the rain pools of the runway turnabout or at the shore of the west beach. If approached quietly and watched closely the exchange of courtship gifts, small fish, can be clearly seen. The Great Crested tern nests later than the Sooty, around the beginning to middle of August, forming smaller nesting groups within the larger Sooty colony.

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Totally white, except for the black eye stripe which joins at the back of the head, the Black-Naped tern is the Sooty's smaller and more shy cousin. Found in small numbers on Pulau Layang Layang (about 50 pairs) they are found nesting at the edges of the rowdy Sooty colony upon the bare sand. The nest, a simple depression in the sand containing a single egg, is easily missed, even by the keenest of eyes. Unfortunately these chosen sandy areas are almost all situated on or along the sides of the paths around the main Sooty colony. Here they are often disturbed by interested onlookers and their unseen eggs are crushed by misplaced feet. In 1996 the Black-Naped Tern population on Pulau Layang Layang failed to hatch a single chick, so please beware.

Brown Node - Anous stolidus

The noddy's all over chocolate brown plum age and pale grey crown distinguish it from the Sooty very clearly. The Brown Node is slightly bigger than the Sooty and quieter, often seen resting in small flocks along the lagoon wall. About 500 pairs live and breed upon Pulau Layang Layang scattered in smaller colonies amongst the larger Sooty colonies, usually nesting amongst the rocks and ground creepers. Nesting occurs at the same time as the Sooty but their single egg hatches to reveal a generally larger chick initially covered in a thin layer of white down, before quickly growing fledgling feathers. Like the Sooty's it is thought that many of the adults leave the island at the end of the breeding season before the monsoon begins.

Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster

Like the Sooty tern the Brown Booby is a truly pelagic feeder only occurring on rocky outcrops and remote islands far out to sea away from the mainland. Their large size, big bill, and bluish webbed feet make them easy to spot as they rest upon the top of the embankment which separates the Sooty colony from the runway. They are often seen on the rocks of the old Navy post close to the Dogtooth dive site as well as perching upon the permanent moorings within the lagoon. Up to 50 pairs have been found around Pulau Layang Layang which nest much earlier in the year, soon after the end of the monsoon season the chicks fledge and leave the nest by the beginning of June.

Non-Breeding Visitors

Another seabirds observed occasionally on or around Pulau Layang Layang include the unmistakable Lesser and Christmas Frigatebirds which soar upon the thermals above the lagoon. The beautiful White-Tailed Tropicbird, with its red eye and 2 long tail feathers, were also seen flying over the resort. Little Herons and Pacific Reef Egrets often stalk their prey along the beach and rocks, as well as amongst the tall grass beside the runway. To great surprise in 1996 a pair of European Kingfishers were seen feeding along the edge of the lagoon. Not classed as seabirds but as waders, Black-Winged Stilts, Common Sandpipers, Ruddy Tomstone, Curlew and Pacific Golden Plovers are sometimes seen probing the mud of rain pools and working the shoreline of the lagoon.

Resting Migrants

Pulau Layang Layang translates as Swallow Reef, aptly named by its first human visitors, due to the numerous Swallows found resting upon its rocks. These Barn Swallows, Hirundo rustica, were mistaken as residents of the atoll but are in fact one of many species which migrate across the South China Sea and use Pulau Layang Layang as a convenient resting place en-route. Some Swallows are so exhausted by the time they reach the island that they can be approached very closely and sometimes coaxed to perch upon a finger. The lucky ones gain strength, feasting upon insects before flying on. Other such migrants including the Dark-Sided Flycatcher, Arctic Warbler, Brown Shrike, Magpie Robin, Yellow and Forest Wagtail, have also been seen amongst the bushes upon Pulau Layang Layang. Finally, an unwelcome visitor, a Grey-Faced Buzzard, was seen being mobbed unrelentlessly by the nesting seabirds around the colony.

Threats To The Birds

You would think that no bird could be safer some 300km from the mainland and its many dangers, yet Pulau Layang Layang is not without its very own. Cats, brought to the island by its new human inhabitants, are gaining in number finding the easy prey of the nesting seabird colony not unlike stacked shelves of a supermarket. Humans interested in the birds, also visit the colony walking between the nests crushing unseen eggs as they move in for a closer look. Parent birds are scared from their nests leaving the unprotected egg or hatchling to die in the merciless heat of the sun. Danger also approaches from the air and claims hundreds of birds each year: Aeroplanes land on Pulau Layang Layang each day delivering the tourists which in many ways make Pulau Layang Layang what it is. Unfortunately with the nesting colony so close to the runway many parent birds are scared into the path of the landing aero planes and killed leaving unhatched eggs or dependent unfledged hatchlings to perish.

For more about Seas of Borneo Expedition, please contact :
Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conserve
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak,
94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Tel: (60-82) 671000 ext 257
Fax: (60-82) 671903

Resorts on this Island
Layang Layang Island Resort



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