Borneo's Biodiversity Bonanza Part 1
Trip Start Jan 08, 2015
18Trip End Feb 26, 2015
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We travelled to Sandakan by bus so we could "feel" the interior of Borneo. It was a good move. As we climbed out of Koto Kinabalu the mighty, misty 4000m plus Mt Kinabalu emerged. The tumbling foothills were covered with primary rain forest giving us a taste of what we were to see in 2 days time. However 3 hours into the journey the landscape changed to "non biodiverse" monoculture......gudzillions of plantations established to deliver Palm oil products including biodiesel
We stayed overnight in Sandakan where it was difficult to find a restaurant selling alcohol as the North Western area is predominantly Muslim. The town was a strange mix of new buildings and tired looking concrete blocks. Our hotel was one of the tired variety and in need of a refurb but was fine for the night. However one of its redeeming features was a restaurant and bar on the roof overlooking the Sulu Sea. After our bus trip we were thirsty so it seemed rude not to go there for a drink. The view over the town, harbour and out to the tributaries of the Kinabatangan River was fab. Strangely there was an engagement party just starting as we tackled our iced lemon tea and the first tune they fired up on the karaoke machine was "please release me let me go, for you don't love me any more" by Engelbert Humperdink! We looked at each other and smirked! We left them to it and went for dinner with Pam and Jen from Northampton, young 20 something's who we met on the bus. I treated us all to a slap up dinner at a Habeeb Curry House for the princely sum of £7
After a night in our luxurious (not) 4 poster bed at the shabby but not chique Nak Hotel, we were keen for our next adventure to start. Jamil who was to be our guide for the next 4 days, took us to the Sandakan Yacht Club where we boarded a two engined power launch captained by the sharply dressed Siti. This was going to be fun. Siti flicked the switch, powered up the nautical equivalent of the "Quattro" and we sped off to Selingan Island which lies close to the Phillipines border in the Sulu Sea. Here green turtles return to its beaches to lay their eggs and it looked just as you would imagine a tropical island paradise should be be. White sand, Palm trees and blue sea. We were shown to our bungalow where we would be overnighting and then were free for the remainder of the day. We were impatient to see the turtles which would arrive under the cover of darkness........however what a day it proved to be. We hired masks, snorkels and flippers and made off to the beach where there was a shallow coral reef........we slipped into the warm sea and within 5 metres we were swimming with iridescent blue and green fish, multicoloured corals, giant clams whose green, white, blue and brown lips gently closed as we swam over them
At dusk we gathered with the other dozen folks on the island....and given the low down on what should unfold later and learnt about the remarkable life cycle of these giant turtles. During their lifetime the females travel for thousands of miles through the oceans. They reach sexual maturity after 20 to 30 years and when they have mated (goodness knows how they find a male to have jiggy with!) they return to the island where they first hatched. At high tide they clamber 50m up the beach, dig a large hole, lay 50 to 150 eggs and cover them over before returning to the sea. After 60 days the tiny turtles (turtlets?) hatch, clamber to the surface and scuttle down the beach. Survival rate is miniscule. Due to this rather inefficient reproductive process and pollution affecting their food sources they are now an endangered species.
In August there are 70 to 80 turtle beachings on Selingan Island each night, however we were in the low season when there would probably be 7 of less. Also the time of arrival was unpredictable....maybe as late as 3am. This was going to be a long vigil. However around 9pm we got the call from one of the Rangers looking for turtle tracks on the beach. We were taken to witness a 103cm long female laying her eggs......she seemed in a trance and unfazed by our whispering presence. It seemed a little voyeuristic but was magical
Next we released a load of turtles which had hatched in the nursery that day........it was fantastic watching them skedaddle down the beach as they were instinctively drawn to the waters edge and quickly dispersed by the ebbing tide. We felt privileged to be there and went off to slumber in our lovely bungalow feeling happy.
The next morning we found out there were 8 further beachings and could see the tracks all over the beach.....as we took the 10 minute walk around the island. Marvellous. By 0730h we were back on our motor launch with Siti aand Jamil. The nautical Quattro was fired up once more and we raced back to Sandakan as the sun rose in the sky. Top turtling!