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Turtle Islands Park
 
Ben van Wijnen

The Turtle Islands Park, also known as Pulau Penyu National Park. This park comprises of three islands, which are Pulau Selingan, Pulau Bakkungan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan. The Park is famous for its green and hawksbill turtles, which lay their eggs on the beaches of the islands. The islands are protected within marine parks on both sides of the Malaysian and Philippine borders.
Turtles nest year round, but are more common between July and October when the seas are calmer. 

By boat to Pulau Selingan from Sandakan town. No public boat services are available, and one really needs to go through the Parks office or arrange a visit through a tour company.

Turtle Island, or Selingan Island, is the largest of these islands and has been developed to house the park's headquarters, a visitors centre, basic tourist facilities and a turtle hatchery. The other islands are usually off bounds to the casual visitor. The nearest mainland town to the park is Sandakan. This was the former capital of Sabah, and was once in the mid-1970s, the heart of a "seemingly" booming timbernindustry. The town today is probably most renown for the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (Sepilok), which is located on its outskirts.

A boat trip from Sandakan to the Turtle Islands usually takes about an hour by speed boat. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of Irrawaddy Dolphins

 
Turtle landings usually occur after dusk. The park has a sensible policy of allowing visitors to see only one landing a night.

This allows undisturbed nestings to go on throughout the night. Whilst waiting for the evenings highlight, all that is left to do is to laze around the beach or snorkel. The west side of the island is ideal for this.
They are clean, quiet, and offer some interesting coral and sea life for a decent days snorkelling. Have a wander around the island and you'll be surprised how many turtles have landed in the last few days, their tracks, like mini-tractors, which remain in the sand for a number of days.


There is a small visitors centre, which is highly recommended, and is open later in the evening. You will not only learn about sea turtles but also of the different parks in Sabah and its unique nature.
The evening's program begins after supper, when the wait for the first landing begins. If you are lucky this could be right after dessert!
Once a landing has been sighted by the Park Rangers, the rangers will escort visitors to the nesting turtle. Remember not to shine your torchlight's on the nesting mother, as it is stressful on the turtle.
Once the eggs have been laid, the eggs are removed by the Park Staff.  This is to ensure that wild predators, such as the monitor lizards, do not get to the eggs. After a period of incubation the eggs woul.
These hatchlings will then have to fend for themselves until they are mature enough to mate and return back to the Turtle Islands.
The hatcheries are situated 50 feet away from the high water mark. Each pit is 30 inches deep, fenced around with wire mesh and identified by a bamboo marker bearing the serial number of the nest, collection date and number of eggs. 
After an incubation period of between 50 and 60 days, the hatchlings dig their way up to the surface of the pit, usually at night, when the sand is cooler.

The hatchlings are normally released in the early morning or night from various points of the islands. 
Once in the sea they are exposed to numerous dangers including being eaten by bigger fish as well as birds. Fatalities can also occur when they encounter plastic bags or mistake tiny hardened balls of oil for food.
The sea turtle is a reptile which spends all of its life in water. Only the female turtle returns to land to lay its eggs. All sea turtle eat marine animals such as sponges, marine worms and molluscs. Adult green turtle are largely vegetarian, eating underwater grasses and seaweed while the hawksbill turtle is carnivorous and eats invertebrate animals of the coral reefs. The natural longevity of the sea turtles is unknown.
They grow very slowly, taking from 10 to 20 years to reach maturity.

Three fully-furnished chalets are available on Selingan for accommodating up to a total of 20 persons per night. There is now a restaurant on Selingan where visitors can order hot meals.
Apart from the Turtle Islands, the other attractions in the eastern region include the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok Forest Reserve, Australian War Memorial and further a field, the lower Kinabatangan river which is one of the best places to see a wide array of wildlife from thecomfort of the boat!


Turtle Island

 

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   Ben van Wijnen

 

 

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