Turtles Galore … my bucket-list item achieved in Sarawak, Malaysia!

Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang was established with the primary aim of conserving Sarawak’s marine turtle population. The park includes the coastline and sea around four islands in southwest Sarawak: this area has 95% of all turtle landings in Sarawak.  I’m thrilled to stay overnight on two of them. One turtle arrived on the first island, ten on this one,  Talang-Talang.

I arrive on Talang Talang - photo by Gustino
I arrive on Talang Talang – photo by Gustino Basuan Sarawak Tourism Board

Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-lived creatures, but only about one in one thousand eggs grow to maturity about 30 to 50 years old!

Ten turtles arrive overnight and I watch as they laboriously dig the holes for the nest, lay about 80 eggs, cover them up and go back to sea. We then see the forestry staff carefully dig them up, record the details,  and rebury them safe from predators.

I hope some of the sixty hatched eggs (that had been buried safely about 45 days earlier)  that I was privilege to count into the release bucket, are among those very low odds and return to this island to complete the process.

My photos tell the story. (There are no overnight photos for 2 reasons – one, I wanted to just enjoy the experience and two, it’s hard to photograph at night with no flash allowed!)

 

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A turtle may lay 10,000 eggs in her lifetime, but once they reach the sea, as few as 10 hatchlings will survive to reach maturity. Some don’t even get to the sea … ghost crabs and birds are always waiting for a meal to appear.

The Sarawak Forestry has conservation programmes at which volunteers can help (holidays with a purpose) : the eggs are either removed from nests and placed in guarded hatcheries, or left in place and guarded round the clock by Sarawak Forestry wardens. After 40 to 60 days incubation, young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators.

Please note: The Sarawak Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme is not suitable for everyone. Accommodation facilities are basic and everyone is expected to help with cooking and cleaning-up. Volunteers join a team of dedicated conservation experts whose mission is to monitor every turtle landing on the island and so help to preserve Sarawak’s natural heritage. Volunteers can expect a rewarding ‘Back to Nature’ experience but should bear in mind that the programme is not a beach holiday.

More Info http://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-np-satang.html 

And here is a not very good video of ‘our turtle’ being released 

 

Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!
Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!

 

One turtle arrives in the middle of the night

“You are lucky I’m a pacifist’ I tell Gustino, from the Sarawak Tourism Board, “if  not, I would slap you!”

“Don’t worry”, he tells me, “many will come tonight”.  I remind him of the old saying about birds and how one in the hand is worth two in the bush – and that that specific turtle was the one in the hand. He laughs, “don’t worry, you will see them tonight” he reassures me.

 

We leave Sematan town for the national park
We leave Sematan town for the two hour trip to the national park

We are on Talang-Satang Island National Park which  is part of the Tanjung Datu National Park the smallest in Malaysia’s largest state : the tonight he’s talking about is the island where we will be in a few hours, Talang-Talang. (all National Parks are managed by Sarwawak Forestry)

He, as our host, was woken at about midnight by the ranger who was patrolling the beach to watch for landings. Perhaps they thought we were exhausted (true) after a week at the Borneo Music Expo and the Rainforest World Music Festival but seeing turtles lay eggs has been on my bucket-list for ages and I’m scared I’ll miss out!

no lifeguards here!
no lifeguards here!

Anyway, miss out that night I did but this is what I’m told:

  • it was her second egg laying visit in 10 days
  • she laid 104 eggs (80 last time)
  • the eggs were transferred immediately to a safe area (the monitor lizards must hate the rangers)
the eggs are buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators
the eggs are re-buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators

Despite being disappointed I did hear gibbons calling early in the morning – they remained out of sight but it was thrilling to hear them again, my first time had been in Sabah last year.

After breakfast we boarded our fishing boat for a one-hour trip to the island where I’ve been told “you will see them.”

See my next blog to see if I was able to tick off one of my bucket list items or, if I had to abandon my pacifist leanings and slap my host!

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Here is a pictorial journal of our stay on the island.

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Turtles studied and protected in National Marine Park, Malaysia

I arrive on an island (Talang-Talang) to see where turtles are being studied and protected in the Tanjung Datu National Park,  Sarawak. Malaysia.

This is just a heads up to let you know I will write this story within the next 24 hours … it was a very special two days and included watching turtles laying eggs and releasing babies that hatched that evening.

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The kiwitravelwriter, (Heather Hapeta) arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarwawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hotested me)
The kiwitravelwriter, (Heather Hapeta) arrives on Talang-Talang Island, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Gustino, from the Sarawak Tourism Board who hosted me.