The first thing we did when we arrived in Sandakan was try to book our trip to Turtle Island but we were told by four separate travel agents that it was all fully booked and that we should have booked in May for a trip in July as it was high season. We obviously didn’t know that and we’re very disappointed as that was one of our main reasons for coming here. On our third night here we retuned to the hotel after dinner to find a note put under our door to say they had some spaces available for the next morning so we couldn’t believe our luck. It was an early start and by 9:30am we were on the boat and on our hour long journey to the island.
When we arrived we were shown to our chalets and given instructions about the island and the times the meals were served and then the day was ours to do as we pleased. Not that there was much to do on the island but the weather was glorious so we had a wander round and then spent most of the day on the beach in and out the sea to try and keep cool. The beach itself was very rustic. There were no sun loungers or bars, just sand, sea and huge holes everywhere from the previous nights nesting turtles. There were two hatchery’s on the island filled with collected turtle eggs waiting to be hatched. Once buried in their holes they take about two months to hatch. Each hole is labeled with the amount of eggs, date collected and number of nesting’s so far. Of course we found the ones dated from the day of the wedding.
The eggs are buried 30cm underground and usually hatch after sunset when it’s cooler and dig their way out. There is green netting around each hole to protect the baby turtles from predators until they can be released into the sea. On our way down to dinner some had already hatched and you could see them scrambling about over each other trying to get out. They were very cute!! As we were taking lots of pictures the next hole started to move and a small hole in the sand appeared, after a minute of two the first baby turtle emerged, followed by another and another within about two minutes they had all come out and there was about 80 of them. We were so lucky to catch it happening right in front of us on video.
As we were waiting to have dinner and just taking some last photos on the beach while the sunset we could see a massive storm brewing. The sky was getting dark and the forks of lightening were amazing to see. So as the thunder roared and the rain came down we disappeared inside for our dinner hoping the rain would stop. No such luck and as the mother turtles are scared of the lightening and find it hard to dig the nests in the wet sand it slowed the whole process down. There was lots of hanging about but with nature you cannot predict when things will happen. About 11 o’clock things started happening and we were taken out in groups to see the mother laying the eggs. So armed with our fetching ponchos again we walked out to the beach. When we got there the mother had already laid her eggs but we got to see her up close and watch the rangers do all their checks and measure her. I wasn’t expecting her to be so big. She measured 95cm and was a new turtle to the island so they tagged her for their records. The rangers had collected her eggs so we left her to make her way back into the sea and headed to the hatchery were her eggs were recorded and buried ready to hatch in around two months time.
The last part of the programme was to release the turtles that had hatched that evening back into the sea. We head back out to the beach again, by this time we were pretty much drenched but it was so worth it. The rangers tipped the bucket towards the sea and 57 little baby turtles scrambled their way to the sea. It really was a sight to see. On our way back to our chalet we had to cut through the hatchery where more babies has hatched. This time we were even closer to them so couldn’t resist having a little hold of them. Perfect way to end a fantastic experience.