Turtle Islands Park – From Egg to Hatchling

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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