The plant diversity of Tanjung Piai includes 29 mangrove and mangrove-associated species. There are at least two distinct vegetation zones in the park based on the trees that dominate those zones. The Avicennia-Sonneratia zone occupies the seaward edge where the mud is soft and deep, whereas the Rhizophora-Bruguiera zone occurs towards the landward side where the ground is firmer and less exposed to waves.
A unique feature of the Tanjung Piai flora is the abundance of bakau pasir (Rhizophora stylosa) trees. No other mangrove forest in Peninsular Malaysia is known to exhibit such a trend. The piai raya, or golden leather fern (Acrostichum aureum) after which the cape is named, is a wide-ranging mangrove fern with leathery leaves that grows along the landward edges where salinity levels are lower.
Mangrove forests typically contain a lower mammal and herpetofauna (reptile and amphibian) diversity as compared to other rainforest formations. Nevertheless, Tanjung Piai is an important refuge for the few species that live here. Mammals and reptiles that you might see in the park include the pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina), dusky leaf monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus), smooth otter (Lutrogale perpicillata) and water monitor (Varanus salvator).
Tanjung Piai is located within the South-west Johor Coast Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), designated in 2004 by BirdLife International. At least 49 species of birds have been recorded in the park, including raptors, mangrove specialists and migratory waterbirds. Some of the more conspicuous birds here include the Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus), Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) and Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea).
Situated along the East Asian – Australasian Flyway, the park’s mangroves and mudflats are a stopover site for migratory waterbirds during the winter migration season, from around September until March. Migrants that have been recorded here include two Critically Endangered species, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) and Chinese Crested Tern (Sterna bernsteini). Tanjung Piai is also one of the few places in Peninsular Malaysia where the rare Lesser Adjutant Stork (Leptoptilos javanicus) is found.
In terms of marine life, Tanjung Piai’s mangroves are an important breeding ground and/or habitat for many fishes, including some commercially important species such as sea bass (Lates calcarifer), snapper (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) and white pomfret (Pampus argenteus).
Of all of the fauna that inhabit the park, it is often the smallest residents such as the fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, and molluscs that are the most interesting. The largest and most visible of the molluscs are the berongan (Telescopium), a large snail with a thick shell that looks like an ice cream cone. The berongan is collected for food and is usually steamed and dipped in chili sauce. If you are lucky, you might see a horseshoe crab. This blue-blooded species is considered to be a living fossil, because it has existed for over 300 million years, since the time of the dinosaur.
Tanjung Piai’s resident mudskippers are perhaps the most fun to watch. These strange-looking fishes have developed amphibious capabilities to survive the harsh intertidal environment. A few species of mudskippers are present here; the largest being the giant mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri). A short stretch of boardwalk at the eastern corner of the park is nicknamed “mudskipper alley”, as groups of mudskippers will skip across the boardwalk during high tide.