Sandakan in the North of Malaysian Borneo is fast becoming a popular destination for those in search of wildlife. Aside from Borneo’s famous Orang Utans and Proboscis Monkeys, the turtles that visit the islands nearby are one sight you must see for yourself.
Crystal Quest is the only operator within the Turtle Park which consists of 5 islands. It’s easy to see why as you arrive from a 45 minute speed boat ride. Greeted by a tiny island just big enough for the chalet style hotel and the turtle sanctuary. The photo on their leaflet, taken some 20 years ago, shows just how much has been eroded away by the South China sea.
After checking in to a well maintained and spacious chalet there’s a few hours free to explore the island and it’s coral reefs. Hiring snorkel gear is a must as the array of fish, coral and other sea creatures is easy to spot in the shallow waters off an idilic beach. There’s even a small football field on the island.
Meals are included and are basic yet very tasty. Malaysia sure knows how to cook great cheap food. A hearty lunch and a relaxing afternoon are followed by a wonderfully informative exhibition upstairs in the main building. The knowledgable guides on the island can answer pretty much any turtle related question you can throw at them and there’s a great video that shows you what you can expect.
The female turtles, living on a diet of Sea Grass and Jelly fish, first breed around 30 to 50 years old and return to their birth place to lay their eggs. After crawling up the beach and digging an impressively deep hole they often lay up to 100 eggs. 2 main types of Turtle visit the Turtle Park, the Hawksbill Turtle and the Green Turtle.
Crystals within their head detect the earth’s magnetism and aid the navigation, Coral reefs have their own magnetic signature that helps the Turtles pinpoint their birth place.
After dinner it’s time to head to the beach and watch one of these large and gracious animals creating a nest on the beach. While the guide makes sure everyone gets a good look a park ranger collects the eggs from the hole as they appear, storing them in a bucket until they are taken to the hatchery. This ensures all the eggs are given a fighting chance and are protected from predators. We witnessed a turtle laying 84 eggs which we then watched being placed into a deep hole in the hatchery area and protected with mesh fencing.
During the day a good number of eggs had hatched and the baby turtles had been collected by the rangers ready for release into the sea. We walked down to the shore, past a female turtle making it’s way up the beach to lay her eggs. Releasing over 100 baby turtles who use both light and magnetism to guide them out to deep water. It was a beautiful sight under moonlight skies as the tiny turtles scuttled down the sand and into the sea.
Sadly only 1% of baby turtles make it to maturity so it’s important to give every last one a good chance of survival. The turtle park are doing a great job to help increase numbers. It’s only in the past few years that numbers of turtles laying eggs has risen sharply. From 3000 in 2007 to over 7000 in 2009.
This can in part be attributed to the great work of the Turtle Park since it was founded in the 60s and along with T.I.H.P.A (Turtle Island Heritage Protective Area) created jointly by Malaysia and the Philippines.
Our short stay on Turtle Island was over so soon as we headed back to mainland Borneo the next morning. It was a pleasant stay on a beautiful island and an unforgettable experience watching one of nature’s amazing occurrences.
For a complete package tour of Sabah check out Intrepid Travel tours.
To book a tour to Turtle Island contact Crystal Quest on (6) 089 212711 or email [email protected]