Continued from The Magic of Selingan Island Part I
Turtle breeding on Selingan Island happens at night. Visitors to the island are permitted to see only the first turtle that makes landing... and so after dinner it’s a waiting game. The first turtle could come at 8.30pm or at 3am and the rangers are on the beach keeping an eye out. I’m an early to bed girl so I was happy our turtle made landing at one of the earliest times recorded of just after 8pm.
After the excited shouts of “Turtle Time, Turtle Time” we eagerly made our way to the beach. All the excitement dropped in an instant upon seeing the huge turtle and the group suddenly became very serene. Words fail me here as it is impossible to describe how it felt to be held in the beauty of a turtle at peace laying her eggs. The fact that 10-15 people surround her with torches, did not even bother her. She was so firm and resolute in her being and she had a job to do.
We arrived to find the ranger behind the turtle with a torch set up to light the nest the turtle had dug and where she was laying her eggs. For the 20 mins of egg laying, we all stood in awe. The ranger gently collected the eggs and put them in a bucket. The turtle had no idea this was happening and continued to lays her eggs until finished and then used her flippers to cover up the nest.
The exhausted mum then took a rest. The ranger took this opportunity to gently inspect her, measure her and check her tag. Our turtle this night was a newcomer – she had never been here before which is a very rare occurrence that gave great faith in the survival of this ancient species that survived what the dinosaurs did not. The mother turtle then returned to the sea never to return to her eggs again. Turtles lay eggs various times from the one mating.
The eggs were then taken to the hatchery where a new nest had been dug for the eggs. They are moved to the hatchery so that they can be protected from the hungry monitor lizards (the lizards are great swimmers and so cannot be eradicated from the tiny island). The location of the nests is managed as nests in the sun will produce more females and vice versa.
Around 8 weeks later these eggs will hatch. When they do the ranger collects them and keeps them until night time when it is safest to release them into the sea. When releasing a basket of turtle hatchlings into the sea, the joy is infectious. 70 baby turtles at only 5cm long clambering over each other, getting stuck upside down and crawling any which way, is a very playful sight. Once they reach the waters edge they are in and off.
The nest that hatched had 70 eggs, 50 of them survived. They do not have any way to trace the life and activity of the baby turtles. It is a mystery what happens from when they first reach the sea until they reappear as adolescents. It is estimated that 1% may survive. So if just one of the turtles we released that night survived, we would be beating the odds.
Witnessing this is a rare opportunity in life and is one of those experiences that stays with you. The rangers see this everyday, yet their joy and excitement was equal to mine. The magic of such an experience cannot be lost.