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Turtle Islands Park, Sabah

Listed under Wildlife in Sandakan, Malaysia.

Photo of Turtle Islands Park, Sabah
Photo by flickr user MattKK
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Slow and graceful Hawksbill and Green Turtles return to these idyllic, shallow watered, tropical islands each year to nest and lay their eggs along the same beaches where they first hatched at least ten years ago. Some of the turtles who nest on the islands have been tracked and travel hundreds and some thousands of kilometres across the oceans to find the right beach year after year. The tracking devices on their shells make them look like strange part robot creatures.

Visitors are only allowed on the main island, and in the evening must wait (swatting mosquitoes) in a large covered area to be collected by the turtle monitors who take you to the turtles, already in the process of laying their eggs.

The turtles patiently drag themselves out of the water and up the beach, seeming not to see the onlookers with their torches and hushed excitement, and heading for a spot they somehow recognise. Once the mother turtles have gone the monitors dig up the eggs and move them to a fenced off sandy nesting area where they are re-buried. Visitors then (if lucky) will get to see hatchlings (from an earlier mother) as they scramble out of the nesting area. Baby turtles are caught and given a health check before their journey. Visitors are able to hold a hatchling and give them a kiss on the shell for luck before setting them on the beach and watching them race for the ocean and the beginning of their long journeys (you‘re also encouraged to whisper some words of good luck and name your turtle. I named mine after my cat, Kitten, who is particularly feisty - so there is hopefully a Hawksbill Turtle out there called Kitten.).

There is limited accommodation on the islands so it’s important to book in advance, you will also be sharing with a small army of bugs. The best times to visit are between July and October, but I went in early February and still saw both an egg laying and a hatching and got to hold both a newly laid turtle egg (they’re softer than you anticipate) and my brave, tiny hatchling.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

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