Baby Turtles!!

15 09 2009

Selingaan Island

We took a trip to Borneo for a few weeks, and while there, we were able to stay in Turtle Islands National Park. The three islands of the Park cover approximately 17 square kilometres and are famous for the green and hawksbill turtles that come ashore to lay eggs on its beaches.

We stayed on Selingaan Island, which is a hair tugging, face numbing speedboat journey that takes you 40km off the coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. After an hour of listening to the whining roar of the engine, you end up on a deserted and peaceful island in the middle of the Sulu Sea. The first turtle hatchery in Malaysia was established here in 1966, and is managed by Sabah Parks.

Selingaan is the only island equipped for overnight visitors, and though you can book through various independent tour operators, the best choice is to plan ahead and book with Crystal Quest, the sanctioned operator for the Island. It’s much cheaper, AND with them, you are able to stay overnight at one of the island chalets. There is only space for about 50 people to stay overnight. This is important because the turtles only come to the beach at night. If you want to see this miracle of reproduction, you must be on the Island overnight!

Once upon the island, there are some pretty strict rules. It is a turtle sanctuary after all, and their protection is priority number one. Still, we arrived early in the morning and were free to walk around the island, swim and snorkel  until evening. After dinner, we were told to stay in the cafeteria and wait for a ranger to call “TURTLE TIME! TURTLE TIME!” This was our signal to head to the beach to watch the mother turtle lay her eggs. Essentially, we were at the mercy of the mama turtle’s timing.

We waited for about an hour and after one false alarm, we were called to the beach. The entire process happens in the dark, and only one flashlight was used to light the event. Here you can see the back of the mother turtle and the eggs she has laid so far. The eggs are perfectly round and about the size of a small apple. In total, the mother turtle laid 89 eggs!! The funny thing is that the mother turtle goes into a trance while she is in the egg laying process (about 2 hours), and she had no awareness of our presence.

Mother turtle laying eggs

As the mother laid the eggs, the ranger took them and placed them in a blue bucket, for placement in the turtle hatchery. This protects them from predators and from being dug up by other mothers laying eggs on the beach. The eggs incubate for about 30 to 60 days before they hatch en masse, and help each other struggle to the top of the sand. An interesting fact is that it is a few degrees of temperature difference that determines the sex of the baby turtles.

Turtle Eggs

Finally, the baby turtles are released into the Sulu Sea. Here they are making a run for it!! Some of them get confused and run the wrong way, and this is when you have the privilege of picking them up and turning them in the right direction.

Baby turtles making a run for it!

Still, it was amazing how most of them knew exactly which direction to run. Mother Nature really is incredible!

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