Conservation of the preserved flora and fauna, human life, maritime economic development and other matters that relate to islands has become one of today’s significant interests. In Malaysia the importance of the islands in the waters of the country appears to be an influential factor in the expansion of the country's provincial waters as indicated in the 1979 Malaysian Continental Map and this will significantly determine whether Malaysia can be recognized as a maritime nation or otherwise. Where geographical background is concerned, Sabah, one of the states in Malaysia, is seen to be a contributing factor for Malaysia to be potentially known as a Maritime Country since it consists of a large number of islands as compared to the other states in Malaysia. With the awareness of this strength, it is time to establish a research centre which focuses in depth about studies based on the sustainability and survival of the islands in Sabah waters. This centre will also serve as a reference center for these islands to the relevant authorities. As Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), is the foremost academic institution in the state of Sabah, it is only prudent that it takes lead in this matter to formulate and promote policies to the State Government for the preservation and conservation of these islands for future generations.

SIRC or Small Islands Research Centre was started by a group of researchers from the School of Science and Technology (now called the Faculty of Science and Natural Resource). At that time, these researchers were focused on studying the water quality of a number of small islands in the coastal waters of Sabah. Then, this research group was known as SIRG or Small Islands Research Group when it initiated studies on islands such as Layang - Layang, Sipadan, Selingaan, Mabul and Manukan in 2001. The studies were focused on the hydrochemical and geological aspects of these islands. In 2014 the SIRG was rebranded as the SIRC or Small Islands Research Centre to address the social-economic and tourism needs of the state of Sabah.

The geographical position of Sabah in the northern part of the Borneo Island makes it a state that is bordered by three countries; namely Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia. At the same time, it is also surrounded by the South China Sea in the north and west, the Sulu Sea to the north and the Celebes Sea to the east. With such a situation, there are many small islands (including some unexplored islands) in these waters. The presence of these islands is a natural resource advantage that has the potential for a variety of opportunity such as tourism, economy, education as well as safeguarding the borders and sovereignty of the country. Therefore, the SIRC was established as a research center that can serve as a collective platform of various disciplines to receive or disseminate information about the various aspects of the islands that are in the waters of Sabah.


Small Islands Research Centre (SIRC) was created to:

To raise and enhance the standards of research and writing on the Small Islands in Sabah in various disciplines.

To locate, map and gather various multidisciplinary information regarding Small Islands in Sabah waters such as the number of existing islands, the location and geography, the diversity of flora and fauna, the natural resources, and the physical conditions of these Small Islands.

To identify the potential of these Small Islands as a strategic and sanctuary area for tourism and economic development.

To develope a one-stop database center.

To establish UMS as a reference point for all Higher Education Institutions in Malaysia in spearheading the study for the Small Island development in Sabah and Malaysia.

To provide support and resources to Government in the formulation of policies governing these islands.




In general, an island can be defined as a tract of terrestrial land surrounded by seawater and it is smaller than a continent. There are three categories of islands which have been identified and classified by geographers and these categories include Mainland Island, Small Island and Very Small Island.

3.1 Mainland Island

UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea) 1982 in Article 121 defines the island as a naturally formed area of land surrounded by water, and still appear at high tide where a natural micro-habitat exists amidst a larger differing ecosystems.

3.2 Small Island

There are different definitions on Small Island and these vary from time to time. At first, Small Island is defined as any island, covering an area of less than 10,000 square miles with a population of less than 500,000 people (Towle, 1979; Debance, 1999 & Adrianto, 2004) and later Small Island is defined as an area of 1,000 square miles (Nunn, 1994). Then again, the definition changed to an area of three square miles (Falkland, 1995). The government of Indonesia, nevertheless, has come to the agreement that Small Island simply refers to the land area of only 2,000 square miles only and is entirely surrounded by water. Among the islands that represent Small Island are continental islands, the volcanic islands and coral islands.

3.3 Very Small Island or Micro Island

UNESCO (1991) specifies that any island with a size not exceeding 100 square miles or with a width that is less than or equal to 3 square miles is categorized as Very Small Island.


Small Islands Research Centre (SIRC) of UMS will focus on research involving two categories of islands: Small Island and the Micro Island as the terms of reference (TOR) and the study will only focus on the Small Islands of Sabah waters including the Labuan Federal Territory.


This research is divided into two (2) clusters, that is, Science and Humanities that cover;


Marine Science


Environmental Science


Conservation Biology



Water Quality

Chemical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering



Physical and Anthropological Geography

Local Administration


Religion and Belief

Arts and Culture


Borders and Territorial

Law and Legislation

Issues and Enquiries



Safety and Security



Stateless People

Illegal Immigrants

Cross Border Terrorism

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