Visitors get a front – row seat here to watch female turtles lay their eggs in the sand, and even take part in the action—helping park rangers gather eggs for incubation and releasing baby turtles into the sea. The turtles face the same dangers as other turtles worldwide. Many adult turtles are accidentally caught by fishing boats and drowned; and the survival rate of turtle hatchlings at most nesting sites is very low.Like a marine version of Cirque Du Soleil, the sea turtles seem to have taken this extraordinary egg-laying act of theirs on the road. Halfway round the globe, the very same drama in Tortuguero is enacted every night on a tiny tropical island, off the coast of exotic Borneo.
Pulau Selligan is one of three islands in this state-run nature sanctuary in the Malaysian part of Borneo, that big island in the South China Sea. (Borneo itself is divvied up between Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia). Lying 40km (25 miles) offshore from the town of Sandakan, the sanctuary only accepts 50 tourists per night. Accommodations are extremely basic, and you have to stay overnight—because this spectacular show only plays nighttime performances.
After arriving by speedboat from Sandakan, you’re free to laze around on the beach all afternoon, lulled by the tropical sun and the beautiful blue waters of the Sulu Sea. Here’s the extent of your daytime entertainment options: study turtle exhibits in the park headquarters (two species nest here, green turtles and hawksbills), visit turtle hatchlings being raised in an outdoor nursery, or snorkel on the shallow coral reef that surrounds the island, busy with tropical fish. (Borneo in general is a fantastic scuba destination, though its most renowned site, Sipadan, has recently had resorts removed to prevent further degradation.) On the soft white-sand beaches, you may notice some curious tracks, evidence of last night’s turtle invasion—deep round flipper scoops on either side of a wide shallow groove where the shell drags along.
As darkness falls, all visitors are confined to the park headquarters, waiting for a signal from a ranger. Curtain time could be anywhere from dusk until dawn, and you can’t wait on the beach—if the turtles detect humans when they crawl ashore, they turn right around and swim away. Once the signal comes, guests go with a guide down to the beach to watch the female turtles deposit their ping-pong ballshaped eggs into a hole they’ve scooped in the sand. They lay anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs at a time, trying to overcome with sheer numbers the vast odds against any one egg’s surviving.
The next act is even more memorable—the audience-participation part of the show. Rangers move the new-laid eggs to a nursery to incubate for the next 60 days—a measure that has dramatically increased the survival of these endangered creatures—and then a number of alreadyhatched baby turtles are brought down from the nursery for guests to release back into the sea. You actually get to hold a sturdy little hatchling, set it down on the beach, and watch it hustle back into the sea. It’s completing the cycle of life—and you helped!
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