Photo: Turtle eggs waiting to hatch.

Turtle Islands Marine Park

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Watching a mother turtle lay her eggs in a sandy nest and seeing the release of tiny hatchlings waddling across the beach is one of Sabah’s many highlights.

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At Turtle Islands Marine Park, a tiny archipelago 40 kilometres north of Sandakan, almost every night green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and the smaller hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) emerge from the Sulu Sea to lay their eggs in the sands. To help boost the numbers of these endangered turtles, the eggs are collected by park rangers and moved to the safety of a turtle hatchery.

Turtle treads. Photo taken in or around Turtle Islands Marine Park, Sandakan, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Turtle treads. Photo: Sally Arnold

The islands span the international border separating Malaysia and the Philippines, with six in Filipino waters and three in Malaysian, the first trans-boundary protected area of sea turtles in the world. From Sabah it’s only possible for tourists to visit tiny Pulau Selingan and as turtles prefer to lay their eggs under the cover of darkness, you must overnight it on the island. Like many of Malaysia’s national parks, associated tourist services are privately managed—and extortionately priced. Many agents in Sandakan offer tours, but it’s more economical to book a package which includes transport, accommodation, and all meals directly though the managing company, Crystal Quest. This means however you won’t have the benefit of a guide when you get to the island, but it’s not really necessary as the rangers are very informative.

Boats leave Sandakan around 09:30 and it takes a bit more than an hour to reach the island. Seas can be rough. Ringed by powdery white sand, the island is your usual tropical cliche, and there’s plenty of time to enjoy swimming, snorkelling or just lazing about; other than this there is little to do. Snorkelling gear and beach mats can be hired. You are required to wear a lifejacket for swimming, and if not, you must sign a waiver. Beware of seasonal marine stingers and other poisonous sea life. The rangers will alert you to the dangers; there were some poisonous sea snakes nesting when ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,000 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Turtle Islands Marine Park
40 km from Sandakan

Location map for Turtle Islands Marine Park

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