One thing I have ALWAYS dreamed of doing is seeing turtles lay eggs on the beach and I was able to do this on an island called Selingan in Borneo.
Booking to get to Turtle Island is difficult because there is limited space but I persevered. The boat journey to the island took an hour and on arrival we were shown some huge turtle tracks on the beach from the previous night- it started to feel real then! I was put in a group and we were shown our rooms and given keys. There were more than enough spaces on the island- it definitely wasn’t booked up as the prices had suggested, but it was actually nicer with a smaller amount of people. Lunch was amazing, a huge Malaysian buffet during where I got chatting to the family in my group. After lunch, we went back down to the beach together and spent our afternoon sunbathing and swimming.
In the evening, I walked to the hatchery where they keep all the turtle eggs buried under the sand. After two months, the eggs hatch and the babies are released into the sea. In the evenings, the babies become more active, hatch and start digging their way to the surface. I saw two babies- one had escaped from its pen and was legging it across the enclosure so I let a warden know. The other was trying to break out of his little pen but kept flipping over onto his back. They can sense the sea and they are drawn to it, but its not safe to release them during the day. I found my friends and we walked to the beach to watch the sunset. While we were there watching the sea, we actually saw a couple of turtle heads bob up to the surface- apparently they pop up to check out the beach they’re planning to lay eggs on that night.
That evening we were given a talk and then watched a video about the island’s work with turtles. It was amazing, so informative – it increased my love for turtles. The females can lay up around seventy eggs up to four times a year and out of all of those eggs, only about ten per cent will survive- because of animals/ birds/ fish eating them, people stealing eggs from beaches to sell etc. After the video we went back to the dining area to eat dinner, and then afterwards to sit and just wait. Rangers patrol the beach and then come and get the group when the first turtle crawls up the beach.
At about 8:30pm we got the signal to go outside and saw a massive green turtle laying her eggs. It was all very controlled- no one was allowed to shine any lights to not confuse them because they are sensitive to light- only the ranger was allowed. We also had to be quiet. The turtles go into a trance when laying their eggs and by the time we got out there, she had already laid 70 eggs which get carefully collected up. Each turtle get measured (they were huge) and are tagged to collect data to see if the same ones come back etc- this one was a returner. Turtles actually return to the same beach where they were born to lay their eggs. We weren’t allowed long with her so as not to disturb/ scare any others others coming up the beach to lay their own eggs. We then followed the rangers to the hatchery where they dig a hole 30 inches deep and place the eggs carefully in which they label with the date and how many there are. Planting the eggs here keeps them safe from animals and poachers. We then followed a ranger back to the beach to release a basket of newly hatched baby turtles into the sea after they have spent their two months in the hatchery. They were absolutely tiny and looked like they’re made of grey rubber. I got to pick one up and redirect it when it started heading the wrong way. The whole experience was over so quickly- I would have loved longer watching everything but I understand they put the turtles needs first.
Shortly after, we went to bed and then set our alarms to get up for sunrise. In the morning I walked to the beach to see the sunrise but it was quite cloudy. I was amazed by the amount of new turtle tracks on the beach from the night before- there were hundreds! I walked further along to find my group who had also got up for sunrise. Amazingly they had found a huge turtle, still trying to cover up her nest after laying her eggs on the beach. Little did she know, her eggs would have already been taken to the hatchery during her trance, to keep them safe and because rangers patrol the beach all night long. There were some rangers there that time of morning but they were happy to let us get up close in the daylight.
After a while we realised there was a second turtle on the beach- this one seemed older and more exhausted, dragging herself to the sea. She had to keep stopping and looked so tired. However as she got over the last sand dune, she picked up speed and then as we got up to leave, the first one also made a beeline for the sea. It was just an unreal experience. Then as we started walking back, suddenly there were hundreds of the little babies running down the beach- we didn’t know where they came from! We assumed they must be a nest that the keepers missed a couple of months ago, because they seemed to just be coming from the ground! We were so so so lucky. We missed most of breakfast and got in trouble and had to get on the boat ASAP but that morning made the trip worth it- it was truly one of the best things I’ve ever seen.