Selingan Island is a safe haven for endangered green and hawksbill and is part of the Turtle Islands Marine Park in the Sulu Sea in Sabah, Borneo. Selingan is the only island in this park that tourists can visit.
The main reason to visit Selingan Turtle Island is to see the endangered sea turtles practicing the millennia old-ritual of building the nest and laying their eggs on a sand shore.
Throughout the year, two species of turtles come ashore almost every night – Greens and Hawksbills.
The Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) is a large turtle of the family Cheloniidae and is named after the greenish colour of their cartilage and the fat deposit around the internal organs. Its carapace is oval and the head is relatively small and blunt.
The Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) is a critically endangered turtle, easily distinguished for the narrow pointed beak reminiscent of a bird of prey. Its carapace is unusual among the marine turtles as the scutes (the hard, bony plates that constitute the shell) are overlapping.
Marine turtles are suffering from human activity all around the planet. The beaches where they nest have been developed for commercial purpose, and they are drowning in fishing nets or choking on plastic bags, which they apparently confuse with jellyfish.
In many regions of the South East Asia, including Malaysia, turtle eggs are a delicacy and collected by indigenous peoples to be eaten or sold in the market.
The hatchery in Selingan protects the eggs from human and natural predators such as monitor lizards, birds and snakes. It also protects nest from being dug up by other nesting turtles and from soil erosion.
Each night, rangers patrol the beaches of Selingan and collect all the eggs that are laid and transported to the hatchery.
After hatching, the baby turtles emerge from the nest and the rangers will help them to find their own way to the sea, as they will need to remember the beach in order for them to return at the maturity to lay their own eggs.
As soon as the baby turtles reach the sea, their battle for survivalbegins. During this run to the open sea about 80% are taken by predators, including birds, fish and crabs. The survivors swim far away and nobody will see them again until years later when the adult females come back to lay the egg on the same beach.
Visitors are not allowed to wander on the beach from sunset to sunrise so as not to disturb the turtles. The rangers will call all visitors to observe only one (1) turtle laying eggs per night. The visitors are requested to wait for the ranger’s call at the cafeteria, so if you are not there when you are called, you won’t get another chance.
As soon as the female turtle finds a suitable site, she commences nesting by excavating a body pit with her fore flippers, and continues until the top of her carapace is roughly level with the surrounding sand. She then digs an egg cavity with her hind flippers. The egg pit is a flask-shaped hole about 50-80 centimetres deep. After 50-60 eggs have been laid, she fills the hole with sand, and then kneads and presses the surface until the sand is packed hard. Once this is done, she moves toward to the sea and at the first breaking wave, she pushes off into deeper water and disappears into the darkness.