5th May 2019 – Sandakan to Pulau Selingan

After breakfast, we packed an overnight bag for our trip to turtle Island. We walked about 20 minutes in the morning heat to a small dockside area. On one side were old fishing junks, and on the other, the speedboats ready to take tourists to the islands off Borneo.

Fishing junk… Not our boat
Our boat

We hung around for a while watching the activity in the port before boarding a speedboat at around 10.30am for the 45 minute journey to the island.

The boat sped along with the wind keeping us cool. On the way we passed the Malaysian maritime ships and then lots of houses on stilts at the edge of the shore. The engines were going full pelt so it was pretty noisy but the views of Islands as we passed them was beautiful.

Malaysian navy
Approaching our Island

After just over 45 minutes we approached a small island which it turns out it’s going to be our home for the night. The boat landed on the beach and we stepped off into a bit of an island paradise.

We walked a short distance to the main reception area and were given a very brief overview of the turtle conservation. There is a board which shows the nightly activity and so we’re fully expecting to see some turtles land this evening.

The island

We were given our keys and made our way to the chalets. They’re small, but perfectly functional and have power and air conditioning. (Although having didn’t a night there, the air conditioning is not great!)

We had about an hour before lunch and so we went to the beach and I went a swim in the incredibly warm waters. The island is pretty small and you could walk around out in less than 30 minutes. There are only about 32 people staying on the island so it feels a bit like an exclusive resort!

View from the water
Looking out over the water from the beach
Clown fish in the water

After a buffet lunch, I retired to the beach for another swim and attempted to avoid getting to much sun while Ed went for a wander around the island.

Not tyre tracks…turtle tracks
Looking across the water to the neighbouring island
The harbour
The neighbouring island

We all met up again at 5pm and had a couple of beers on the beech while we waited for the sun to go down.

There was a beautiful sunset as you could see clouds in the distance efficient were backlit by the sun going down.

Our group waiting for sunset
Hunting for eggs
Monitor lizard

We hung around on the beech until about 6.30 when we headed back to the centre to see the small display room explaining about the conservation principles. The island that we’re on is Malaysian, but there is a cross country conservation programme between Malaysia and the Philippines.

Each night, rangers track every landing and then transplant the eggs to a hatchery on the island. They are then released directly back into the sea once they hatch. We saw a short video on the conservation programme before going for dinner.

After eating we settled on for the wait for a turtle to land. At around 8.30 we had the call and were led to the beach where a title was already starting to lay eggs. When we saw this in Costa Rica, there were no photographs allowed but this is different in Malaysia. You were allowed to take photos as long as there was no flash used. Watching the turtle lay was a really special experience. As she was laying, the ranger scooped the eggs from the nest into a small bucket. We were told that whilst laying the turtles go into some sort of trance like state so would not have been aware of our presence. Once she had finished, laying 96 eggs, the ranger took time to measure her, check for damage and barnacles and to see if she had already been tagged. It turns out that this was a turtle who had not layed before so he also tagged her. We left her to return to the sea

Tagging the turtle

The rangers will work through the night to do this for every turtle that lands and nests.

Next, we were taken to the hatchery where we saw how they transplant the eggs that had been laid. They are careful marked and protected and some nests are undercover and some more open as the temperature of the nest affects the sex of the hatchlings.

Hatchery by day

Finally, we were taken back to the shore where we watched as some hatchlings were released into the sea. They would have been laid around 60 days ago and, if they survive, will remain at sea until they are of breeding age in 15-30 years time when the females will most likely return to the same beach to lay. The rangers used a torch light in the sea to direct the hatchlings who would usually follow the moonlight.

Overall, an amazing experience. By now it was around 9.30 so after a nightcap we headed to bed.

(in the morning we discovered that there had been 32 landings and 20 nests that night with over 1,400 eggs transplanted and over 80 hatchlings released.)

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