Saturday, February 11, 2012

Turtle Island first day of Borneo tour

The driver picked us up promptly at 8:30 am and took us to the jetty for our one hour boat ride to Turtle Island national park.
The island is one of three in Asia where green and oxbill sea turtles lay their eggs.
The female turtles drag themselves up on the beach above the high tide line and dig a very large hole in which they lay their eggs (usually between 80 and 180 are laid by each female). They then cover the eggs with sand using their back flippers. Then the turtle makes her way back to the ocean. This process can take several hours. The eggs are about a meter under the sand and hatch in about 2 months and the tiny new born turtles make their way back to the ocean. About 1 to 2 percent actually make it back to the ocean because of man's interference and natural predators. However any female turtles that may survive can travel thousands of miles away but will return to the island where they were born to lay eggs. These turtles can live up to 100 years and can weigh over 200 pounds.

Due to interference from man the number of turtles returning to the islands has decreased significantly. Also turtle eggs are considered a delicacy in Asia so locals raid the turtle nests and sell the eggs. The malaysian government has now imposed heavy fines and imprisonment for those caught taking or selling turtle eggs.
The turtle sanctuary is funded through tours such as ours. These funds allow rangers to monitor the turtles when they are laying eggs, record the number of eggs laid, collect eggs and move the eggs and bury them in a monitored hatchery area safe from natural predators such as lizards and birds as well as unnatural predators such as humans. Rangers record the size and approximate weight of the female turtle laying the eggs and she will be tagged unless this is a return turtle that has already been tagged.
The rangers release the hatched turtles into the sea rather than them make their way down the beach to the water where only about 10 percent would make it to the water as opposed to 90 to 100 percent make it to the water when released by rangers.

We arrived on the island at about 10:30 am and got settled in our rooms. There were about 20 of us that would watch turtles lay eggs, eggs being collected, buried in the hatchery and baby turtles released. All of this happens at night anywhere between 8 pm and 4 am depending when and if any turtles make their journey on to the island.

So we had the afternoon to relax, swim and snorkel. You could walk around this island in about 20 minutes and being one hour from the mainland in the Celebes sea with only 20 people plus staff I felt like I was on survivor! As you can see from the pictures the water is clear and beautiful. The water was very warm and we had a lovely afternoon swimming and sunning on the beach. We had been told that there were pirates in this area over the last few years and in the past there were arm guards with the tourist on the island. However, there are now military boat patrols so no Johnny Depp for me.

After dinner we all had to remain together and wait for the rangers call that a turtle was laying eggs. Up to around 50 turtles can land in one night to lay eggs but we would only be allowed to observe one. Tour participants are not allowed to wander the island after 6pm so turtles laying eggs are not disturbed. Since the rangers have been taking these measures the number of turtle laying eggs each year has tripled.
We got the signal at 8:40 pm that a turtle was laying eggs. The pictures below are quite dark as we were not allowed to use a flash as it would disturb the turtles.
We walked out to the area on the beach where the green sea turtle was laying eggs. In all she laid 94 eggs. She was 108cm in diameter and was a returning turtle who laid eggs on the island just over a year ago. In all 34 turtles landed on the island that night and 30 turtles laid eggs. The other 4 went back into the sea. The ranger carefully collected the eggs without the turtle knowing -- using her back flippers the turtle covered the area where the eggs were with sand. Eggs in hand the ranger led us to the hatchery area to bury the eggs. Then back to the beach to release 87 baby turtles.
The entire process was amazing and hats off to the people who have dedicated all this time and energy to help the sea turtle population survive.
After one nite on survivor island (accommodation, food etc is pretty basic and no 7 eleven here -- although they seem to be everywhere else in Borneo) it is off to the Borneo jungle -- what shoes shall I wear???

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