“It’s turtle time!”

Turtle Island (Pulau Selingan) is one of a group of uninhabited islands straddling Malaysian and Philippine waters within the Sulu Sea. This island is protected for the sole purpose of conservation and preservation of turtles and other marine animals inhabiting the area.

Relaxing on the island before the turles came out

As the rangers don’t know when, or even if, a turtle will come ashore to lay her eggs we had to sit tight and wait for the signal. But we did know that it would be at night as the turtles need to be cool to start the laying process.

At about 10pm we heard the ranger shout “turtle time” and which point we all scurried down to the beach in the dark. On arrival was a  dark green mottled mother turtle, over one metre in diameter. She was laying eggs in the pit she had dug herself. The turtles go into a trance when giving birth so our presence didn’t bother her. As she nested she appeared to be shedding tears, but really she was just secreting salt to keep the sand out of her eyes.

Mama, in a trance, in her hole
Just a few of the 101 eggs

It was incredible to watch as the eggs popped out into the sand (sometimes several at a time). We left the turtle to continue her work (it takes 1–2 hrs to complete the egg laying process). She laid 101 eggs (which looked like table tennis balls).

Eggs

Once finished, she covered the eggs (well this is what she thought she was doing but really the ranger had removed the eggs for safekeeping) and then had a well earned rest.

We then took the 101 eggs and planted them in the hatchery to be safe from any predators. The most interesting thing we found out was, like crocodiles, the sex of the hatchling is determined by the temperature of the nest. Essentially, the hotter the sand surrounding the nest, the faster the embryos will develop. Cooler sand has a tendency to produce more males, with warmer sand producing a higher ratio of females.

The hatchery

We then released the baby turtles that had hatched that evening. As soon as they were set free they ran like mad towards the sea. As the hatchling leaves for the open sea, it continues to swim out and lives solely on its yolk in its belly for at least three days. At less than eight inches long, green turtles eat worms, young crustaceans, aquatic insects, grasses and algae.

Just before release
On their way…

The turtles have an inbuilt GPS; in a few years the female hatchlings will be back to lay eggs on the beach where they were born.

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