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Turtle Island (Sabah, Malaysia)

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City: Sabah / Country: Malaysia / World Region: South East Asia

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      05.05.2012 12:05
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      The Best Island In The World

      I went to Borneo is October 2006 and while I was there, I took part in a three day excursion in which we visited the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, Turtle Island and a local town in Malaysia.

      Here I will review the Turtle Island Trip

      About Turtle Island
      Turtle Island is a conservation project for the beautiful Green Turtles. Basically this is a very remote island on which the Green Turtle lay their eggs all year round. People are only allowed to visit this island on organised trips and only a certain amount of people are allowed on the island at any one time to ensure the turtles are not disturbed by too much human activity.

      There are 2 large 'hatcheries' in which the turtle eggs are buried to allow them time to hatch. Once the green turtle lays her eggs in the beach, the keepers remove them from their natural nest into a man made nest within the hatchery. The purpose of doing this is to protect the eggs from any predators. When left in their natural nest, the eggs are often dug up by predators such as the monitor lizards, rats etc and with turtles being endangered, they need to protect the eggs as much as possible.
      The keepers patrol the beach to make sure they see all the turtles as they lay their eggs so they are able to take the eggs to their hatchery.

      As part of your trip, you are escorted down to the beach to watch a female lay her eggs, then you are allowed to watch the keepers collect the eggs and bury them in the hatchery. Then, you are allowed to release hatchlings into the sea. The keeper's wait until 2-3 nests have hatched and then release all the hatchling together as they have a better survival rate the more you release.

      Price
      We booked a package holiday when we went to Borneo which cost £860. This price included 15 nights stay in Borneo; three of these nights were spent on this excursion. I am unable to give an actually price for this trip as we booked it all as one package so the total price of the holiday included our three days trip, our hotel stay as well as all internal flights.

      Location
      The Turtle Islands Park, lying about 40 km off Sandakan consists of a group of three beautiful, exotic and unspoilt natural islands. One of the islands, Selingan, has all the basic needs such as accommodation and a restaurant and is the main island in the group to see the rare Green Turtle lay her egg.

      Getting There
      This trip was part of a three day excursion and Turtle Island was the first place we visited. For Turtle Island, we flew from Kota Kinabalu in Borneo to Sandakan Airport. From here, we drove for about half an hour to catch a boat. We caught the boat from a tiny jetty which was very scenic and we had some great photo opportunities. The boat journey lasted about 90 and we went past some wildlife such as monitor lizards and also saw a few local towns as we went past.

      Accommodation
      We stayed in basic accommodation with shared facilities. To be honest, before we got there, I was slightly worried about sharing toilet and shower facilities but once I got there, I realised I had worried for no reason. Although the hotel room itself was very basic the toilet and shower facilities were lovely.

      There was a block of toilets (similar to school toilets) which were all very clean and smelt nice. Then, next to the block of toilets was a block a showers, all with lockable doors. The shower was clean, smelt nice and was easy to use and always had hot water.

      The room itself consisted of 2 single beds, a small cabinet next to each bed and a wardrobe. The only downside to the accommodation was that we were only provided with a ceiling fan rather than air conditioning so the room was a little stuffy through the night but we only stayed here for one night and the fan did cool the room down to a certain extent. The room was clean and we were provided with a clean towel each as well. The rooms were set out in a similar style to chalets, there were several blocks and each block had 4 double rooms and the toilet and shower facilities so you only ever shared the toilets and showers with 3 other couples. There were 6 showers and toilets and these were divided into male and female sections so in total, there were 12 showers and toilets so you never had to queue for the loo or shower which was nice.

      Itinery
      We were picked up from out hotel in Kota Kinabalu to travel to Turtle Island at 5.30am so this trip includes lot of early mornings. Once we arrived at Turtle Island, we were free at leisure for the first day and we did some snorkelling from the beach which was great as we got to see some beautiful fish. We also sunbathed for the remainder of the day as the sun was lovely and with the island being very remote, there were not many people around so it made for a very relaxing environment.

      At 8pm that night, we met with our guide and the other people on our tour to have a buffet dinner together, although the food was basic - their wasn't a great choice but was still enough to get a good meal. The food mainly consisted of rice and various curries along with selections of hot meat and fish. For desert there was a choice of fresh fruit such as pineapple, orange, apple etc.

      After dinner, it was literally a case of waiting around until a keeper informed us that a turtle was laying her eggs. We were allowed to either sit on the beach or in the restaurant and relax until we were called by a guide. We were restricted to certain areas as we were not allowed on certain parts of the beach in case we disturbed a turtle looking to lay her eggs. The female Green Turtles come to this island every day of the year to lay eggs. Too much human activity will deter them from laying their eggs which is why you are limited as to how many people are allowed on the island at once. There are strict rules once you are within the conservation area. One of these rules is that you are not allowed to have any type of light on after dark, too much light on the island will be noticed by the turtle's and they will not lay their eggs. You are also asked to keep noise to a minimum when sitting on the beach, as again, you don't want the turtles to be scared away.

      While we were sat around waiting, my boyfriend and I decided to go outside the restaurant and have a cigarette. We were just about to go back inside when I spotted something running towards my boyfriends foot which I thought could be a cockroach. Suddenly we both realised it was a baby turtle. We had already been told not to touch anything knew we weren't allowed to touch anything so my boyfriend ran to get a guide, while I followed this tiny turtle across the ground. Suddenly, I was surrounded by hundreds of baby turtles, it was truly amazing. By the time the guide came back, a few more people had gathered around all the babies which were making a dash towards the restaurant. It was absolutely incredible to watch! The guide told us to start picking them up and taking them to the sea. He instructed us on how to hold them properly so we didn't hurt them and we walked them down to the sea and released them - what an experience! The guide explained that the hatchlings must have come from a natural nest that they hadn't spotted so were unable to put them in the hatchery. He explained that hatchlings are attracted to light, which is why they were all making a dash for the restaurant, as they could see the lights inside. I understand that we were extremely lucky for this t happen as normally you just have to sit around and wait so this was a very pleasant surprise and allowed us to hold the turtles before the planned itinery.

      The turtles can come to lay their eggs at any time. As part of the trip, you are required to get up at 6am the following day to proceed with the next trip so as you can imagine, everyone had their fingers crossed that the turtle would be kind to us and arrive to la her eggs fairly early. The guide informed us that the previous night, the only turtle that laid her eggs on the beach, did so at 5am so the people on that tour must have been so tired waiting up all that time to see her and then having to leave for the next part of the trip at 6am!

      Personally, I thought it would be nice for the guide to let us go to bed and then wake people once the turtle had arrived. I asked if this was possible but was informed that it wasn't because once a turtle had been spotted, the guide did not have enough time to knock for everyone and get us all down to the beach in time to see the eggs being laid.

      Luckily, we were called to view a Turtle at 21.50 which was lovely as it meant we could still grab a fairly early night. We were told to all be very quiet and follow the guide. We reached the females laying her eggs and were all allowed to rotate and get really close and have a look. Once a turtle begins laying their eggs, they go into a trance and are unaware of their surroundings so we were able to get very close which was really breath taking. I was even more amazed than I thought I would be. She was massive and the rate she laid her eggs at was incredible, they were literally dropping out of her and into this nest that she had dug. The guides informed us that it was the first time this Turtle had visited the island as they tag all laying turtles and she had not been tagged. They tagged her in front of us which was a bit horrible to watch as it obviously hurt her but this is necessary as it gives them an idea of how may laying females they have in the area. The guide also removed a barnacle from her back and told us that had it been left there, she would have died as a barnacle is like cancer to a Turtle.

      I have to admit that I was a little grumpy sitting around and waiting for the turtle to come and lay her eggs as I was tired and knew we had another early start the next day. That said, I am so thankful that we waited up to see this. I thought I would enjoy this trip but I under estimated just how much, it really was a once in a lifetime thing for me, seeing such a beautiful pre historic creature so close up and witnessing her laying her eggs, well, it really was just incredible.

      After seeing her lay her eggs, we were then taken to the hatchery where another guide met us. He had collected all the eggs that has just been laid and was creating a new nest in the hatchery to place them in. The turtle had laid 151 eggs in total and we watched as they were buried and tagged with the date that they were laid and the number of eggs. Tagging them with the date they were laid gives the guide a rough idea of when they eggs should hatch. The guide passed one egg around and told us all to handle it very gently and this allowed us to feel the egg. It was quite soft as apparently reptile eggs are quite soft once they are laid and harden over time.

      After this, the group was taken to another hatchery where turtles had been hatching. Here we were each given a small basket in which we could collect the hatchings. We were warned not to put too many in the basket as obviously you were not allowed to layer them on top of one another, just enough to cover the bottom of the basket. We were then taken to another area of the beach where we were allowed to release the hatchlings. It was incredible to watch these beautiful tiny reptiles taking their first steps towards the first ever piece of water they have ever seen, and their new home. The only slight downside was that because we were not allowed torches etc, we were limited as to how much we could see but we were taken to a piece of beach near to the restaurant so the lights from there lit up the beach to a certain extent so we still saw enough.

      Unfortunately, you are not allowed to use flash photography and as I can't work my camera very well and have no idea how to turn off the flash, I was unable to take any photos. . You are not allowed to use a flash camera as bright lights will blind a baby turtle. The guides asked you to pay £1 if you wanted to use your camera and the money would go towards their conservation work. However if, like me you were unable to take your own photos, there were photos provided that you could buy; they were only £2 for 6 photos so we did that instead as their photos were outstanding anyway and much better than anything I could have taken.

      Summary
      I would 100% recommend this trip to anyone, it was a once in a lifetime experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As well as seeing the turtles, there was a variety of wildlife on the island such as monitor lizards, geckos and birds which you were able to watch in the early evening. The money you pay for your trip goes towards the fantastic conservation work they do here. If you want to help one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet increase in numbers and witness this happening first hand, then this trip is for you!

      Thanks for reading. Sorry it's so long, got a bit carried away reliving the experience!

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    • Product Details

      About 12 km (7.5 miles) off the tip of the Sandakan Peninsula, and 36 km (22 miles) from Sandakan town (eastern Sabah). The park encompasses part of a cluster of small, low, sandy islands which are important nesting sites for Green and Hawksbill turtles. The islands are protected within marine parks on both sides of the Malaysian and Philippine borders. The Malaysian park includes three islands, Pulau Selingan, Pulau Gulisan and Pulau Bakungan Kecil. The sea turtles (Green and Hawksbill turtles) are the star attractions. Dolphins may be sighted outside the Sandakan Bay.