A trip to Turtle Island – Pulau Selingan, Sandakan

Pulau Selingan is an quiet and idyllic island that belongs to Sabah Parks located about 40km away from Sandakan town or a 45minutes to an hour boat ride from the Sabah Park Jetty located at Jalan Buli Sim Sim (depending on the sea condition)

It is pretty close to the Phillipines Border considering a couple of the neighbouring islands like the Taganak Island, Bakungan Besar island are Phillipines owned and (the bad news to those addicted to cyberspace) , once you get here there will be no phone line and no WiFi – it is very far from civilasation (hahaha)

Selingan Island is a small island but if you are envisioning a nice sea view chalet on the beach, you will be sorely disappointed…. You actually have very limited access to the beautiful glorious beach … you only are allowed to visit, play and lounge or sunbathe on the beach from 12.30pm to about 5.55pm… and forbidden on the beach anytime between 6pm and 6am

When you arrive, you will be ushered to the cafeteria for check-in and given the keys to your rooms and also get briefed about the itinerary, the dos and don’ts (not allowed on the beach anytime after 6pm and before 6 am) and that we have to pay Sabah Parks a fee (RM60 for non-Malaysians and RM20 for Malaysians) as well as a camera fee if you want to take photo of the turtles (RM10). No videos of any kind allowed unless you apply and pay for the permit a week before …

There are basically four chalets that comes with 6 rooms each, all cloistered inside a little jungle area away from the beach…. 5 minutes walk

The rooms are average sized, basic but actually really cosy and comfortable with Ikea bedding and towels and you have a choice of sleeping with the fan or the a/c…there are no mineral water or any cups or glasses given but you can bring a glass from the dining hall back to your room if you have to…

The itinerary was basically simple… lunch, dinner, breakfast (which was decently nice – they serve 2 different vegetable dishes, one prawn dish, one chicken dish and rice… there’s also cut fruit and hot tea served) and the turtle programme….

After lunch you are free to do as you please… take walks on the beach ,tropical sun bathing, swimming or snorkeling (equipments can be rented from the Sabah Park rangers)

We went out to grab some photos at the beach after lunch but since the sun was super scorching, we decided to go back to our rooms to rest and even nap (to prepare for what we anticipate could be a pretty long wait for the turtles – the rangers said turtles can appear anytime between 8pm to 4am or so)

The beach here comes with fine powdery white or light beige sand and is pretty clean but all over the islands there seem to be “craters” or ‘holes’ in the sand…

Mem Umie, my good friend from Sandakan who is also an influencer said the sand smelled of turtles and I laughed at her…

So we took a nap for an hour plus in our room before later heading to the beach the other side of the island which has been marked for swimming and snorkelling at about 3pm when the weather had cooled considerably…

There were 2 lifeguards there keeping a watchful eye on us….

I was about to go snorkel but changed my mind because there were just so many sea cucumbers (gamat) around at the shore area and I did not want to step on them… call me crazy or silly, but that is one of the reason I cannot dive , too, because besides not being able to clear my diving equipment mask .. I did not like the idea of hurting sea creatures or corals unintentionally and vice versa… the lifeguard did laugh at me and said I should try snorkelling at the deeper end where there were some corals, colourful fishes and clownfishes (or Nemos as he called them) (but the thing was I would have to waddle and swim out too right… lol)

So we played at the very shallow end, touched some of the sea cucumbers and then talked to the lifeguards… and learned that the “craters” or holes in the sand are all made by the turtles and are their former nests

We were not lucky to get a view of Sabah’s famed sunset as it was super cloudy with storm clouds….

The storm began at 7pm when Mem Umie and I were headed out for dinner after our shower and our hearts sank… so much for sunset and with this rain… hopefully there will be turtles….

Turtle Programme began with an informative video on the life of turtles as well as what Sabah Park was doing for them ….

There is also a gallery on the upper floor of our dining area which was really very informative and interesting and came with skeletons of a baby Irrawady dolphin, an average sized red snapper and a huge turtle….

When the video ended, we had our dinner and settled down to wait with the “what ifs” on our mind – since the weather was rainy ….

Our fears were laid to rest when a couple of guests excitedly rushed into the dining hall at 8ish carrying baby turtles which they found wandering outside, and some of us started crowding around them wanting to see the cute hatchlings … and then….

“Its turtle time!!” The ranger announced to the group of people who were cooing at the baby hatchlings in the dining hall and the excitement became palpable… we rushed outside the dining hall and paused to check where we step as apparently there were baby turtles running all over outside the wrong direction attracted by the bright lights..

We gingerly followed the ranger trying not to step on the hatchlings that were suddenly all over the place, probably hatched from a nest the rangers might have missed… (Note : not all turtles that arrive at Pulau Selingan are spotted or recorded, sometimes the rangers miss out a couple or so because they are busy attending to other mother turtles, thus unrecorded nestings and unrecorded hatchlings )….

A Sabah Parks ranger , Azizan was attending and keeping a watchful eye over a huge, and I mean HUGE green mother turtle (about 104.5 cm x 92.5cm) which was hard at labour delivering egg after egg in the hole that she had spent 40 minutes or so digging… Azizan said the green turtle was probably in her 40s…

Azizan had a torch aimed at the hole the mother turtle had dug and as the mother laid her eggs, he reached in and collected it and carefully put it into a pail…

We were warned not to make too much noise or shine any torch or use any flash… at least not when the mom was in labour as to distract or disturb her…

After laying a total of 89 eggs, she finally started covering the hole (empty now, cos the eggs have been collected to be transplanted in the turtle hatchery) and the rangers allowed us to take photos of her and with her….

Then after Azizan had cleaned her up, checking for barnacles and tags as well as her measurements etc, he brought us all back to the hatchery (on the way, we encountered the wild hatchlings which were like all over the place and picked them up to hand then to the rangers) where he had a hole prepared similar to how the mother turtle had dug her nest…

The eggs were carefully placed inside and fenced to keep predators out and the hatchlings safe…

…there was a board with the date, number of eggs and such written on it, for the rangers to keep note…

Then once the eggs were safely transplanted, Azizan brought out a basket full of turtle hatchlings (about 63 of them) to the beach and released them… it was such a sight watching the turtle hatchlings follow the light the rangers were shining towards the sea and some rushing in the other direction… we certainly had some fun there.. we were told the rangers will never release the hatchlings in the same area because they want to spread the chances of the hatchlings surviving and not sending the hatchlings into the jaws of some fish or predators waiting at that area… on our way to release the baby hatchlings and on our way back we heard scratching sounds and also chanced upon yet another mother turtle digging her nest… the rangers laughed and said it would probably take another 40 minutes or so before she would start laying her eggs…

So we left her to dig her hole and lay her eggs in peace… the ranger would probably just repeat the process of transplanting her eggs, tagging her and measuring her later but without all our curious eyes…

The turtle programme ends once you have seen one mother turtle lay her eggs, follow the ranger to transplant her eggs and release one batch of hatchlings but the actual process will be repeated many times for the whole night …

There would be a few turtles laying their eggs, and having their eggs transplanted and taken care off and have hundreds of hatchlings to be released into the sea – before the hatchlings are released they will be counted and recorded before their release which will be within the hour or so….. the rangers will not get to sleep until about 6am….

We headed back to our rooms passing the turtle hatchery where it was a little chaotic, apparently the rain and coolness of the weather has awaken and induced many of the eggs to hatch and so many of the transplanted nests were busy with hatchlings digging their way out and also struggling to get out of the plastic fencing which has been placed around the transplanted nest… it sure was a sight to behold!!!

We had a comfortable night rest after all the excitement of seeing part of the circle of life of the turtle and woke early the following day to pack, catch the sunrise at 6 (as we are not allowed on the beach after 6pm and before 6am) have some breakfast and check out and return to Sandakan at 7am….

We were lucky we got to catch sight of a late turtle who was just returning to the sea after (or not) laying her eggs

It was truly an amazing experience to say the least and one I will not forget!!!! And a pretty good (or bad) break from cyberspace….

Things to bring :
*your own water bottle
*RM50 in cash at least if you are Malaysian or RM100 in cash if you are a non Malaysian….
*clothing for beach and swimming
*reef friendly sunscreen or an aloe vera gel for after sun
*packet chilli sauce or your own chilli if you like spicy – the food here is totally for kids or foreigners and there is no spicy taste at all
*you need to apply for a permit if you want to do any kind of video recordings or such from Sabah Park or it’s strictly no video

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