Turtle Island – A Truly Wonderful Experience
After being accepted onto the Course Director training course in Kota Kinabalu in 2019 I started looking into all the mundane tasks like hotels and transport and realised that if I were flying all the way to Borneo, it would be completely ridiculous not to tag a trip, no matter how small, onto the end of it. Ocean Turtle’s regional manager, Emma, suggested a place called Turtle Island which instantly appealed, and the trip was booked!
The trip began with a short boat ride from the main island to a picture-perfect island paradise. We were left to our own devices during the day and had instructions to be ready at 6pm ready for our turtle briefings. I really wasn’t sure what to expect and whether turtles nested and hatched all year round so I had a lot to learn.
The island is part of a wider conservation programme in the protected waters to the North of Borneo and there are several islands, belonging to both Malaysia and the Philippines, that are putting a lot of resource into ensuring the survival of the turtles. They have banned fishing in a wide area around the islands to help reduce the risk of entanglement and the waters and islands are policed by an armed guard to ensure that no poachers try and steal the turtle eggs too.
Whilst waiting for the briefing I decided to go snorkelling to see what other life there was around but after some comments from other visitors on the island, I wasn’t hopeful that I’d see anything exciting. How wrong they all were! There is a large variety of coral plus a huge variety of fish, including trigger fish, wrasse and plenty more besides. A highlight was finding an anemone with 3 clown fish including a very small baby and an extremely protective dad causing the inevitable flooded mask.
Back on land, we were ready for the briefing and found out, much to my delight, that we were very likely to see a turtle laying eggs and see hatchlings released into the water. It was just a matter of waiting to see when an expectant mother would decide to visit. Thankfully, despite recent visits from the turtles happening around the 2am mark, our gorgeous green turtle arrived around 7:30 and began laying about an hour later once she was happy with the spot that she’d chosen.
As soon as it was go time, the rangers gathered us around and made sure that everyone kept a respectful distance from the turtle whilst she was laying and made sure that everyone in the group had a chance to get a good look and take photographs. The turtle was not in any distress at this time and the rangers explained that during this process, they go into a trance like state.
The perfectly round eggs, all 69 of them, were collected immediately after they were laid so they could be transplanted into a hatchery to ensure the greatest chance of survival (around 80% success instead of around 20% in the wild) and to protect them from any predators there may be including rats and intimidatingly large water monitors!
Once the laying process had been completed, we were allowed round the front of the new mother to take photographs and the rangers were excited to see that she was a brand-new turtle to the island and she was tagged and declared a citizen of Malaysia!
Once the eggs were successfully transplanted, it was time to see some of those that had been buried 50-60 days ago be set free into the ocean. I never thought baby turtles would be as adorable as they are, but they are honestly some of the cutest animals I have ever seen! They also move at around a million miles an hour so getting a decent photograph of them that didn’t double as a blurry mess!
The night that I was there, 9 turtles visited the island with 5 laying eggs. One turtle laid a whopping 103 out of the 369 eggs in total. What’s even more encouraging is that 356 hatchlings were released. It’s all down to the forces of nature how many of those little dudes make it into adulthood but hopefully with conservation and educational initiatives like this, turtle numbers will increase and become a lot healthier for future generations.
There will always be more to do to educate people about the need to protect these majestic creatures but with these sorts of programmes happening across the globe, hopefully the turtle populations will begin to truly thrive once more.
Blog by Bettie Comley