Saturday, January 22, 2011

Selingan Island: Land of the Green Turtles

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When doing a wildlife tour in Borneo there are a few must-see places including Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, the Kinabatangan River, Gomantong Cave and Selingan Island, more commonly refereed to as Turtle Island. We chose to do Selingan Island in between Sepilok and the Kinabatangan as to break up the ape sightings with another highly endangered species- the green turtle. Selingan Island also is a home to the hawksbill turtle, but it is not as common on the island as the green turtle. The green turtle can be found all over the world, but is very endangered. There are three small islands off the coast of Borneo that the turtles like to come lay eggs on because of the protected habitat and good waters of the Sulu Sea. The islands lay between Borneo and the Philippines and if you swim to far out from the island you can actually end up in trouble for illegal entry into the Philippines. The green turtles face many predators in the water and their eggs face many predators on land. The eggs are a favorite tasty treat of the monitor lizard who loves to pilfer their nests. Their nests are also pilfered by humans who sell their eggs illegally as a delicacy. On the island the turtles are protected and can safely lay their eggs. On the island is a ranger station, a small visitors center and a few tourist cabins- enough room for 50 people. They limit the number of people on the island everyday to keep the environment as safe as possible for the turtles so it books up fast and advance reservations are needed. During the day you can swim and snorkel in the ocean around the island or simply relax on the beach and watch the sunset. Most of the turtle activities happen at night, but during the day you can witness the newly hatched baby turtles scrambling over each other in their fencing before they are released that evening.
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The green turtles come and lay their eggs during the cloak of night to protect themselves and their eggs from predators. Guests are invited to come witness a mother laying her eggs once the process has started. Guests must remain a safe distance and remain somewhat quiet, but the turtles go into a trance when they are laying eggs and seem to have no idea who is around them. This is one of the only spots in the world where turtles lay eggs 365 days a year, most other places egg laying is seasonal, but they are wild animals, so a sighting is never a guarantee. We were told the process usually starts around 9pm, but the turtles don’t got by a schedule and nothing happened till after midnight, so I would suggest bringing a book or a deck of cards with you to the main area while you wait, because you can’t walk around the island alone at night in case a turtle has come farther in from the beach and decided to nest elsewhere. The first step of the process is to watch the mother lay her eggs. The rangers call for the guests once she is in her trance and then we got to watch as she laid her eggs and the rangers measured her and checked her tag to record the process of their conservation efforts. The second step of the process is the eggs are collected by the rangers and reburied in a fenced off location to keep out any intruders. The eggs are marked with a white marker with vital information like the date and number of eggs. Some eggs are placed in the shade and some in the sun because the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the turtle. The last step is to release the daily hatchlings into the ocean. The green turtle has many predators in the ocean and only one in a thousand will make it to adulthood, so it can be very sad to launch them into the water knowing odds are none of them will survive. However, the green turtle is an ancient creature and it is amazing and inspiring to watch its fight for continued survival.
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To learn more about the green turtle and how you can help in their survival check out the WWF.

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