Turtles and teething troubles (Selingan, Borneo, Malaysia)

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One of our ‘anchor points’ of the trip was Turtle Island, a 24 hour visit to Pulau Selingan, one of three protected islands that are favoured by green and hawksbill turtles for laying their eggs. We booked the trip 3 months in advance as they limit the number of tourists to a maximum of 50 per night.

The island is 40km off land (an hour in a speed boat) and we arrive to find a golden beach lined with palm trees and clear water.  Turtles lay their eggs during the night so we had the day free to spend relaxing on the sand or snorkelling.

Unfortunately ‘the boy’ had been suffering for the past few days with teething and the previous night had been a disturbed one with my other half and I taking it in turns to comfort him throughout the night. Needless to say we were shattered.  Forget the paradise beach, all we wanted to do was sleep. ‘The boy’ played in the sand for an hour, we had our lunch and then we made best use of ‘the boys’ nap time, went back to the chalet and slept for a couple of hours.

The beach

Post dinner and after pushing ‘the grumpy boy’ (his teeth were still playing up) around the canteen in his buggy for over an hour to get him to sleep we patiently waited for the ranger to notify us of the first turtle sighting.

Two hours passed and then we got the nod, although it wasn’t a nod, or a calm order to follow him, but a frenzied ‘quick, quick, hurry, hurry or you’ll miss it!’ As you’re not allowed to use torches (it disorientates the turtles as they think it’s the moon), we were scrambling across the sand in the dark until we came to where the turtle was laying. It was an amazing sight and we were able to get within a few feet of her, but it wasn’t the serene experience I had imagined.  Surprisingly the rangers don’t ask for silence so there was a lot of noise and movement around the turtle, which I thought would be distressing for her. Within a few minutes of us arriving she finished laying her 46 eggs (just below the average of 50-100 eggs in each clutch), the eggs were collected and then we watched the ranger burying them in the hatchery to safeguard them from hungry, rats birds and lizards.

The eggs take around 2 months to hatch and interestingly the temperature at which they are incubated determines the sex of a turtle. If the egg is above 29°C then it will hatch female, below 29°C and it will be male. Typically when a turtle has laid her eggs under a shady bush then the majority of hatchlings will be male as the eggs will have been cooler than if she had laid them in direct sunlight.

Eggs in the hatchery

We also got to witness the release of a hundred or so hatchlings, waddling clumsily down the beach until they reached the sea and swam off, following the light of the moon.

The highlight of the visit was the next morning. A little disappointed with the manner that we watched the turtle lay her eggs I decided to get up at 5.30am so that I could be on the beach for 6am (the beach is off bounds between 6pm and 6am unless you are with a ranger), on the off chance that I might see something. I bumped into Sven, a lovely German guy that we have been spending time with and he’d had the same idea. (Poor old hubby had to babysit!).

6am turtle burying her eggs

Ten minutes later and we saw something – a small amount of sand being thrown up in the air from under a bush, and another, and another. We walked towards it and there she was, a giant turtle who had just finished laying and was beginning to bury her eggs.

We watched in silence, only a metre away whilst she slowly covered the eggs up with sand, pulled herself out of the pit, made her way down the beach and swam off into the distance. We had the privilege of watching her for twenty minutes and it’s going to take a lot to beat it. Amazing.

Top tip of the day:
Carry a small clip top plastic container in your day-pack. We found that ‘the boy’ lost his appetite when he was teething and would only eat small amounts of food at strange times of the day. When you don’t have access to shops or a kitchen it’s handy to be able to take uneaten food (fruit, vegetable rice etc) with you for later in the day.

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