Sea turtles have roamed tropical waters for over 135 million years. These ancient creatures can live to be older than 100 years. Reflecting on these traits which clearly establish an extraordinaryily long history and propensity for surviving most other creatures, it is wonder that there are still many unanswered questions surrounding them.
Though we know that they migrate thousands of miles across oceans, we still have no conclusive evidence as to why they return faithfully to their own natal beach to nest and where they migrate to after nesting. Also, there are those lost years unaccounted for between hatching and their emergence as adults.
The only thing we know for sure is where we can find them when they return to nest. Selingan Turtle Islands just an hour by speedboat from sandakan town is protected as a santuary for these gentle turtles. Though peak nesting season is observed from May through to September, nesting occurs throughout the year, and Selingan offers tourist and marine enthusiasts a wonderful opportunity to observe this miraculous event up-close.
Activities on the beach are prohibited from 6pm till 6am the nest day for fear of scaring off turtles making their way up. Even the slightest noise or light will send a turtle scurrying back to the sea. But if left undisturbed, she will burrow her nest in the dry sand above the high tide mark and lay up to 120 eggs in a single nesting.
She may return another five to seven times in a season to lay more eggs, each clutch with an interval of two weeks. Though it may seem that turtles produce bounteous eggs ensuring the endurance of the species, in reality one out of 1,000 hatchlings survive the pilgrimage to adulthood out in the open seas. In fact, turtles only begin their three-hour mating ritual when they reach sexual maturity at the ripe age of 30. This long wait coupled with the threat of predators make for an arduous survival.
Fossil evidence proves that more than 30 species of turtle have gone extinct. Today, only seven are left: the leatherback of the dermochelyidae family and the hawksbill, olive ridley, loggerhead, kemp's ridley, flatback and green turtle of the cheloniidae family.
At Selingan, rangers patrol the 1,200 metre sandy coast waiting for the first sign that a turtle is afoot. Tourists are only allowed near when the turtle has finished digging her body pit and egg chamber; using her hind flipper, this process can take up to two to three hours. Only when she is satisfied with the depth of the chamber will she begin expelling her eggs.
These sticky sperm-covered eggs which are only fertilized in the nest are havested from their original resting place and relocated to the hatchery for safekeeping and incubation. According to the rangers, they have recorded a decline in male offspring. To counter this problem, eggs are incubated according to temperature; cooler temperatures between 25 and 29 degrees celcius offer a higher probability of females, where else warmer temperatures of 30 to 34 degree celcious yield a higher likelihood of males. Thus, the hatchery located in a cool area whre trees provide ample shade.

This article is courtesy of Crystal Quest, whihc organizes transport to Pulau Selingan and operates the only resort on the island.

To Get There; Sandakan is accesible via a 2 hour 45 minute flight from LCC, KLIA. Airasia flies to Sandakan daily from KL.

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