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Turtle is a gentle and graceful creature. It lives most of its life in the ocean, only the female turtle will come up to the beach to lay her eggs. It belongs to the reptilian family. Looming the great ocean, and gliding effortlessly under the sea water, the turtle spends a huge amount of its time searching for food like sea grass, seaweed, and jellyfish. Many of them can live to three hundred-years-old or even longer. And Compared with humans, the turtle has a long history with its ancestors going way back to the Mesozoic era, about 200 million years ago, where the Dinosaur was still alive and kicking. While many scientists believe that the dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, the turtles continue to live on to the present day. Not many creatures alive to date can lay claim to that honour.
Today there are seven types of sea turtles around the world, but their livelihood is very much threaten by human activities. From poaching, to accident cost by fishing net, these severely hamper the turtle population around the world. The commonly discarded plastic bags also cost many deaths to the turtle, as the turtle often mistook these plastic bags for jelly fish in the ocean, and it has great difficulty digesting the plastic which is not an organic material. If the above activities are not bad enough, turtle eggs are very much sought after, as the eggs are considered a delicacy in many countries. This also deplete the next generation of turtle tremendously. Presently the turtles are the most endangered species among all the reptilian families.
To ensure that the turtle does not go the way of the dinosaur, Malaysia together with a few other countries, has banned the selling of turtle eggs. And the first turtle hatchery of the country was created in Selingan Island, Sandakan in August, 1st, 1966. By March 1968, two more islands namely Gulisan Island, and Bakkungaan Kechil Island, are built with similar hatcheries. In 1972 these three islands come under the care of Sabah Park, thus the Turtle Islands Park which encompasses an area of 1,740 hectares was created. After some 40 years of service, Turtle Islands Park is always high on the list for tourists who venture into this part of the world. The types of turtles that frequently visit here are the Green Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle.
The journey to the Turtle Islands Park begins at the Sabah Park Jetty about one kilometre away from the Sandakan town centre. To be more precise Selingan Island is the only island out of the three islands in Turtle Islands Park that allows visitors. Guests are required to be at the jetty by 9:00 am. after registration has been completed, everyone will be ushered into a fiberglass speed boat. After putting on the safety jacket, which is an important precaution not to be overlooked. The journey will take about one hour. On the way visitors will be treated to some wonderful views of village houses by the seaside, some small-scale sea fishing industry where the local called "puka", and on occasions can see fishing boats going out to sea and coming back from the catch.
On an average day guests will reach Selingan island by 10:30 am. As there are no jetty for this island, guests would have to disembark onto the sandy beach which is just before the Main Administration office, where the restaurant is located. The guest house manager will sort out every person's room. As only 50 persons are allowed to visit the island on a daily basic, this will not take long. Once every one has checked into their rooms and with the luggages put away, almost every one will head to the eastern beach, a swallow beach which is great for snokerlling. If one prefers a more relaxing activity, one can always enjoy a good tan on the beautiful mile long white sandy beach.
Lunch is served at 12:30pm. After lunch and with the sun high in the sky, afternoon is a good time to retreat back to the chalet to cool down in the air-conditioned rooms. Late afternoon will be a good time to walk around the island. One can only walk on two thirds of the island along the beach, as the north end of the beach is rocky and exposed to the open sea, which is very difficult or impossible to walk. The south-west side of the island, with a long sandy beach, is a great place to see the sunset. Here one can also see many tracks and small holes made by the turtles the previous days. By 6pm darkness would have engulfed the island, and all the beaches on the island will be closed to the public in anticipation of the turtles coming ashore, which is the main show of this visit.
By 7pm most of the visitors will gather around the Administration building audio video room for a half hour Turtle Show. Dinner will be served at 7:30 pm, after that, most of the lights in the building will be switched off. Only minimum lights are left on. Because turtles are easily distracted by bright lights. All the guests will have to remain at the dinning hall waiting for the rangers to see signs of turtle landing. The waiting can last from one or two hours or it can go all the way to mid-night. To kill the time while waiting, one can always venture into the exhibition rooms on the first floor. This is definitely a good place to learn more about the life of a sea turtle.
Guests are normally divided into groups of ten each, so that people will not be too crowded around the turtle. Once the ranger has spotted a mother turtle coming ashore and ready to lay her eggs, guests would be called from the dinning hall and make a fast but short journey to the sandy beach. Here one would get a chance to see the gentle turtle laying all her eggs. After the turtle has finished laying her eggs, the ranger will do a few measurement on the turtle for vital conservative data, before letting the mother turtle wonder back to the sea.
Later, all the eggs will be collected and transfer to the hatchery areas which are surrounded by a three feet high wire mesh. A hole about 2 feet deep is dug out from the sandy floor and the eggs will be lowered down one and one. Guests especially children are asked to help out in putting the sand back to the hole. When the sand has covered up the hole, a wooded plate with dates and numbers of eggs written on it, and it will be stuck on top of the hole for future reference. At the hatchery the eggs will be protected from predators until they are all hatched. Did you know that the sex of the turtle is actually determined by temperature? Warmer temperature will produce female, therefore those hatcheries that are placed under the trees will produce mostly male baby turtles.
The last activity of the night will be the releasing of baby turtles to the sea. The ranger will bring baskets of baby turtles and these which have been hatched earlier in the evening will be released. Each group will consist of 50 or more baby turtles. The body size of these baby turtles are only about an inch long. Once these baby turtles are released from the basket, they will rush towards the sea, guided by their nature instinct. The guests will be the witness, and help guide one or two lost baby turtles to their destination. After a long night, this is good time for the guests to head back to their rooms for a good night sleep.
Where to do your booking? The best place to try and get a room in Turtle Islands Park is through Crystal Quest S/B. They have the best price in town. Crystal Quest S/B office is located at the Sabah Park Jetty. If they are fully booked then one can try the many travel agents in Sandakan town.
The Turtle Islands Park Gallery:
*Some of these photos are credited to Donald Monjohi
At The Sabah Park Jetty
Turtle At The Selingan Island
The Administration Building
There are a few Chalets on the Selingan Island and these are located on the northern part of the island. Each Chalet consists of a few rooms, which sleep two persons each. All rooms have air-condition and also are equipped with hot shower.
Wildlife On The Island
Around The Island