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Sandakan ~ Turtle Island Park & Selingan Island

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The Turtles The Islands Selingan Island The Nesting Hatcheries Travel Tips

The Turtle Island Park is a safe haven for the endangered green and hawksbill turtles and is situated 40km north of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea. Encompassing an area of 1,740 hectares it includes the three islands of Pulau Selingan, Pulau Bakkungan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan; the surrounds sea and coral reefs.

Green TurtleHawksbill TurtleThe Turtles
The turtles lay eggs throughout the year, although the best months are between July to October. All sea turtle eat marine animals such as sponges, marine worms and molluscs. Adult Green Turtle are largely vegetarian, eating underwater grasses and seaweed while the Hawksbill Turtle is carnivorous and eats invertebrate animals of the coral reefs. The natural longevity of the sea turtles is unknown. They grow very slowly, taking from 10 to 20 years to reach maturity.

The Islands
The islands boast a myriad of flora, including mangrove, lantana and the furry silver-leaved Tournefortia. However, the real stars of the island are the turtles, which come to nest the shores. Pulau Selingaan is the main nesting area for the green turtles (Chelonia mydas) while the beautiful hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys) tend to flock to the shores of Pulau Gulisan. Visitors are taken to Selingan Island to witness the rare opportunity to watch turtle landings. The other two islands are more for conservation activities.

Pulau Bakkungan Kecil
This is the largest island and it lies close to the Philippines border. Active mud volcanoes are also present here. These are not true volcanoes but originate as mineral-rich mud, expelled from deep below the surface. The favorite nesting places of the Green Turtles are the beaches on the northern and western shores of the island. No accommodation facilities on Pulau Bakkungan Kecil.

Pulau Gulisan
This smallest island is only 1.6 hectare in size but remains one of the favorite haunts of the hawksbill turtles which lay their eggs on the northern, eastern and southwestern beaches. All sea turtles eat marine animals such as sponges, marine worms and molluscs and the hawksbills are no exception. Being carnivorous, they feed on the invertebrate animals of the coral reefs. The adult Green Turtles however, are strict vegetarians, limiting their diet to the underwater grass and seaweed.

Selingan Island

Selingan Island

About 8 hectares in size. it is the second largest of 3 islands. The island houses the park's headquarters, a turtle hatchery, tourist accommodation and basic facilities. A restaurant is also available for visitors to enjoy hot meals. As turtle landings usually occur after dusk, an overnight stay would be the best plan to see the turtles as they come ashore to lay their eggs. ChaletsWhile waiting for the evenings highlight, all that is left to do is to laze around the beach or snorkel. The west side of the island is ideal for this.
They are clean, quiet, and offer some interesting coral and sea life for a decent days snorkelling. There is a small visitors centre, which is worth a visit and is open later in the evening. You will not only learn about sea turtles but also of the different parks in Sabah and its
unique nature.

The Nesting
The turtles come ashore on the east and southwestern parts of the island to lay their eggs before returning to the sea. The turtles can come as early as 7pm, or as late at 2am and have also been seen nesting in the early hours of the morning between 5 to 6am. The park has a sensible policy of allowing visitors to see only one landing a night. This allows undisturbed nestings to go on throughout the night. Tourists normally wait in the restaurant area after dinner while the guides watch out for turtles coming ashore. Only a certain amount of people can watch one turtle at a time so you have to be ready to go when called and this can be 2am, 3am.............
It is worth the wait though!

Almost every night female turtles come up and lay their eggs. The turtles take their time laying their eggs. The whole ritual of emerging from the sea, then choosing a suitable site and clearing the area before laying about 100 eggs ; concealing the eggs with sand and finally taking their leave takes one whole hour! The project workers then go around behind the turtles and remove the eggs as they are laid, and the egg-laying turtle has no knowledge of this. The turtles ID marking are read, and notes taken. When the turtle has finished, she covers the hole thinking the eggs are inside and makes her way back to the sea.

Park staff collect the eggs and transfer them to hatcheries; The eggs are then placed in a hole in the yard of the sanctuary and filled in with sand and given a protective fence around the top.

After an incubation period of about 50 to 60 days, the hatchlings dig their way up to the surface and they are later released to the sea from different points around the islands. They are then on their own, to survive the dangers at sea and perhaps return one day to lay their eggs on the very same shores as their mother once did.

Baby turtles are released at night. Everyone get a chance to hold one for a couple minutes. The proper way is to hold it between 2 fingers. These little guys instinctively know that its time to go to the water, and are doing everything in their power to get there. So while you're holding them, they're flipping wildly. The back flippers have almost no power, but the front ones have strong pull as it is about 3-4 inches long.

The harvesting of turtle eggs from this area began before the colonial days. Over-harvesting led to the decline in egg production but was not until 1971 that the turtles were given any form of legal protection. In 1977, the islands and its surrounding seas were handed over to the Sabah Park Trustees and hence came about the
Turtle Island Park.


Accommodations & Facilities
Overnight accommodation, visitor center and a restaurant only at Pulau Selingan. The facilities have been privatized and accommodation limited. Accommodations are on first come basis bookings only as they are limited to 3 units (fully furnished) for 20 persons only per night. You really have no choice but to go with a tour company.

When to go
Turtles lay eggs throughout the year, but more common between July and October when the seas are calmer. The best time to visit howevber is during the driest month and the calmest seas between the months of March and September. Avoid October to February as this is when the islands receive the northeastern monsoon windstorms

Getting There
By boat to Pulau Selingan from Sandakan town. The boat from the Sabah Parks jetty at Jalan Buli Buli Sim leaves at 9.30am and the ride to Selingan takes an hour. No public boat services are available. You have to go through the Parks office or arrange a visit through a tour company.

Compulsory- Permits and accommodation can booked through the Sabah Parks Office in Sandakan. Alternatively, trips can be arranged through tour operators who will arrange the permits, travel and accommodation.

Sun and sea. But snorkeling and diving opportunities are limited. A torch is handy, but may not be used when watching turtles nesting.

Overnight accommodation, visitor center and a restaurant only at Pulau Selingan. The facilities have been privatized and accommodation limited. You really have no choice but to go with a tour company.

The park was created to protect the natural environment especially the sea turtles, the coral reefs and other marine life. There are therefore stringent rules which visitors are advised to observe.

Visitors Are Forbidden From Engaging In Any Of The Following:

Wander along the beach after dark. (The Park Ranger will inform you when there is a turtle laying eggs.)

Build campfires, shine bright torches on the beach, sing, dance or play music on the beach at night.

Disturb the turtle during the nesting process by coming too close or crowding around her. Instead, visitors re advised to watch the nesting from a distance.

Under any circumstances, ride on the turtle, pull her flippers, turn her over, jump on her or injure her physically. Such acts of abuse may have adverse effects on future nesting returns.

Night photography is strictly forbidden on Pulau Selingan but allowed on the other two islands with permission from the Park Ranger.

Collecting any plant, animal or other living or non-living things is strictly forbidden without prior written permission from the Director of Sabah Parks. Fishing, however, is permitted with hook and line only.







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