Making Turtles

Trip Start Sep 14, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2010

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sabah,
Saturday, February 27, 2010

Booking directly with Crystal Quest saved us 50% off the tour prices, for what, well to go to Turtle Island as it is known.

We were a little sceptical about going to Turtle Island, one, because it was pretty expensive for of a day including overnight, and secondly, because we didn't fancy participating in some sort of contrived tourist trap.

The small island is reached by a bumpy sea crossing and is the nesting ground to the large Green and smaller Hawksbill turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand on the beach. An organisation runs the turtle sanctuary which collects the buried eggs and then re-buries them in a safe cordoned off area for hatching some 60 days later. The newborn turtles are then taken to the water’s edge and released into the sea. Anything from 40 to 120 eggs can be laid but only 1 or 2% of the newborns actually make it into adulthood, so predatory is the life for the young. There are a few sanctuaries in and around Asia that are trying to maintain the numbers of these graceful creatures despite turtle eggs being sold illegally in local markets as a culinary delicacy.

We spent the afternoon on the north beach and it was the first time that Issy and Ady had a proper go at snorkelling on a coral reef. It was quite shallow and whilst not in great condition, the coral provided them with a real taster for the underwater world of colours and amazing fish.

The turtles come ashore at night between possibly 6pm at sunset to dawn the following day although it is not uncommon for none to come ashore depending on the season. Apparently a few nights before the tourists waited up until 3pm without any show. We were fortunate, at around 8pm just after dinner we were called along with the 30 others, to go to the beach as a turtle was starting to lay her eggs. We gathered around the huge momma and watched incredulously as she delivered 68 eggs in a trance like state. Apparently the trance is normal and she would have been unaware of us being there, bit dubious about that as I tried desperately to get a decent photo without flash, like the others. As soon as she finished and started to cover the eggs we had to leave and went to see where they would be buried. Then it was off to another part of the beach to release 58 hatchlings that had broken out of the shells and made it to the top of their sand pile. At the sea line they were tipped out of the bucket and instinctively went their zigzag way to the ocean. It was great to see but a little sad when you think that only one or two percent of them would survive. Apparently they are a bit tasty for the sharks and they like to treat them as hors d’oeuvres!

That was it, 40 minutes of activity and we had finished. The next morning we all left on the even bumpier boat ride back to a rainy Sandakan at 8am and found out that around 15 turtles had actually laid eggs that evening.
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