Situated 40 km away from the North-Eastern coast of Sabah, the Turtle Islands are small islands located near Sandakan and resting in the tremendous sea of Sulu. The island nurtures a great population of turtles which, in effect, made the place popular in Borneo. A few hours after the sun sets in the late afternoon, a vast number of turtles, specifically the Hawksbill and Green Turtles, can be found laying their eggs on the sands of the island. Due to an alarming danger level of the turtle population, the Sabah Parks took the responsibility to protect the Green Turtles. A number of policies have been strictly implemented by the authorities to ensure that the activities of the turtles are not being disturbed. Some of the policies include restricting the number of guests and the prohibited use of torches and cameras during the visit.
The three popular small islands, namely, the Gulisaan, Pulau Selingaan, and the Bakkungan Kechil, mainly constitute the Turtle Islands Park. A 1750-hectare marine park surrounds the islands which absolutely help for the survival of the turtles. The three islands in the park provide turtle eggs which are being secured by Sabah Parks. As soon as the turtles are finished laying, their eggs are being transferred to the hatchery where they are safely protected. Selingan, in spite of its low advancement in facilities, is the major island that houses many tourists through a few chalets which provides the basic accommodation such as showers to freshen up, comfortable beds, toilets, a cooling fan, and a refrigerator. There are four bedrooms in each chalet, and private facilities can be accessed by the guests with an extra charge. Camping in the island, however, is strictly discouraged.
Some of the major turtle-breeding grounds include all the neighboring islands, such as the Philippines. The year-round breeding cycle of these endangered species draw a popular attraction to many tourists with an exception during the occurrence of monsoon storms from the months of November to February.
The island features a “turtle show” which usually begins a few hours after sunset. While waiting for the highlight activity of the evening, visitors can take a tour at the Visitors Centre where they can find comprehensive turtle displays. If they love the water adventures, they can try out snorkeling through the coral reef situated north of the island. Others can also check out the rock pool in the place which is abundant in marine life at the same time spot a number of grey herons, white-collared kingfishers and doves. You will also be surprised to see the wading birds, as well as the birds of prey, present around the area. An overlook view of the turtle hatchery at the open cafeteria is perfect while enjoying your meals which are included in the tour package.
The park has been created not only for promoting tourism but mainly for the preservation of turtles. Because of this, the management provides the basic rules to the visitors which are strictly being stressed out by the rangers, before they are allowed to view the turtles.
The much awaited arrival of the turtles usually begins after dinner. As soon as the rangers see the first turtle, a shout signal which has been expected by the guests would be heard. With full excitement, they would rush together in groups following the ranger’s faint torchlight.
In order to lay their eggs, the female green turtle, as well as the hawksbill turtle, exerts their full effort to dig into the sand to create holes where they could lay as many as 80 to 120 eggs! Usually as big as half a meter, mature turtles can reach a maximum weight of 40 kg. A number of turtle tracks can be visible every morning – if you are clueless, you can mistakenly thought of them like alien tracks. Park rangers are assigned to keep a record of the turtles while making a safe transfer of their eggs to the hatchery. After 50 to 60 days of incubation, the eggs begin to hatch in the isolated portion of the hatchery. An amazing number of hatchlings can be seen struggling through the cracks of the eggs trying to free themselves.
Secured by the rangers with care, the return of the hatchlings to the tremendous ocean surrounding the island is one of the exciting activities in the evening. Visitors will be amazed watching the little new borns racing through the shores as they are being freed with the help of the rangers. In exchange for their freedom, however, only 3% to 5% of these hatchlings are expected to survive because some of them could be eaten by predators.