by Nikki McKee
I didn’t really know what I was up for when I went to Selingan Island. I knew I’d see some turtles and that there was a breeding program in place but I had no idea that I was soon to be blown away by the majesty of nature.
Selingan Island, also known as Turtle Island is a very small island of only 17 square kilometres and an hours boat ride off the coast of Sandakan, Borneo. It is one of three islands that make up the Turtle Islands Marine Park which are heavily protected and supported by both the Malaysian government and the nearby Filipino government.
The Turtle Islands and surrounding waters are a breeding ground for hawksbill and green turtles and the breeding program here is considered one of the most successful in the world. This is because most years, they have increasing numbers of turtle landings. On Selingan alone, over 600,000 eggs are collected annually. This is no mean feat considering what it takes for a turtle to reach sexual maturity and then successfully reproduce.
A turtle is sexually mature around age 30-40 when they will feel the urge to reproduce. The female will then travel back to the same place she was born. Mating is a one off encounter and when ready the female will come ashore to lay her eggs. Green turtles can be up to 1.5m long and weigh over 160kgs. Dragging yourself up the beach isn’t easy when you are a turtle of this weight but the mum comes well past the high tide line to dig her nest and lay around 100 eggs.
Selingan is a conservation island and the turtle breeding process is managed. The island has been opened up to a small number of tourists each day to allow them to witness the process from egg laying to releasing baby turtles into the sea.
In part 2 of this blog, Nikki shares the joy and honour she experienced witnessing a big mother turtle laying around 100 eggs and then releasing 70 newly hatched baby turtles to sea.