Wildlife Encounter: Turtles of Selingan Island, Borneo

So it's Sunday Heyday again and this week I've decided to dig up a treasure from my 6 month Asia travels with Martina. As the title suggests, it's about turtles on Selingan Turtle Island, Sabah Malaysia. 1 hour boat ride north of Sandakan. This blog post is about our 1 day and 1 night stay on the island and a beautiful and exclusive moment with a turtle mother. 

1/2500 sec, 12mm, f/2.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Selingan arrival.

1/2500 sec, 12mm, f/2.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Selingan arrival.

But let's start from the beginning, 17th July '14.

Martina planned and booked this trip with Amazing Borneo and it was lucky that we managed to get a spot because the Turtle Island tour is really popular and because we were in Sandakan for only a limited amount of time, we weren't too flexible with our dates as we had other tours that we wanted to book i.e. the Kinabatangan river safari. If you plan to go, try to book at least 2 months in advance. I think we did ours only 2-3 weeks ahead and spots were already limited. Of course, if you have plenty of time on your hands and flexible with dates, you can always just go to Sandakan and shop around at the different tour companies for the best price. Ours was a 3 day/2 night package to Selingan Turtle Island, Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Bilit Rainforest Lodge and Gomantong Caves. For our budget, it wasn't cheap but the only way we found possible to go to this turtle island.

1/2000 sec, 12mm, f/4.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Walking around the island.

1/2000 sec, 12mm, f/4.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Walking around the island.

We arrived before midday and were briefed about the available activities (which were few since the island was tiny), and we were to wait till sunset before being briefed about the turtle viewing. So pretty much, we were left to our own devices for 6 hours till sunset. There wasn't much to see except palm trees, average beaches, the occasional monitor lizard and police with automatic weapons since the island is close to the Phillipines so they need to have guards. 

Martina would also like me to add that it was H-O-T. Very hot with mosquitoes around so definitely bring some bug spray and lots of sunscreen. The lodging itself was not the best - the water in the taps are all saltwater and the shower didn't seem to heat up despite them saying they had hot water? But things were clean enough. It's fair to say that you're not there for the accommodation :P

1/250 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Island Map. Mother turtle egg laying and turtle hatchling release located on the eastern bite of the island. My exclusive turtle encounter was on the northern part where the grey part meets the beach.

1/250 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Island Map. Mother turtle egg laying and turtle hatchling release located on the eastern bite of the island. My exclusive turtle encounter was on the northern part where the grey part meets the beach.

1/250 sec,  14mm, f/9.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Sunset briefing.

1/250 sec,  14mm, f/9.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Sunset briefing.

Near sunset, our guide brought us to the eastern side of the island and started to explain to us the conservation work they do on the island and the basic outline of the night. To be honest, I don't remember much of the conservation and island information told. What I do remember was that we were to have dinner and then be guided through their museum to watch a documentary about the island and wait for the signal so that we could go down to the beach. The most important thing they warned us about, was that the beaches are off-limits between 6pm-6am, with the exception of a Ranger escort.

1/4 sec, 24mm f/4.3, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Turtle hatchery.

1/4 sec, 24mm f/4.3, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Turtle hatchery.

The turtle nursery which holds the turtle eggs to keep them safe from the hungry mouths of the monitor lizards. 

1/10 sec, 42mm, f/5.6, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Turtle babies.

1/10 sec, 42mm, f/5.6, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Turtle babies.

Just after sunset, some turtle hatchlings surfaced. They were collected and released later. See below images.

1/30 sec, 14mm, f/3.5 ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Egg laying time.

1/30 sec, 14mm, f/3.5 ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Egg laying time.

Finally! While waiting patiently in the dining hall, we were informed that the first mama turtle landed. So we rushed over to the eastern side to check her out. Poor lighting and a flash prohibition made it difficult for a nice shot. This was my irk of the night. 

This was the only egg collection of the night for tourist viewing purposes. Usually, the Rangers mark the spot where the mother turtle lays her eggs, collect the turtle's body measurements and return the next day to collect the eggs. 

1/13 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO800 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Home time.

1/13 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO800 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Home time.

1/15 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). 

1/15 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). 

The collected eggs were then taken to the nursery and gently buried for incubation. FYI, they said the temperature, i.e. exposure to sunlight determines the sex. Warm = females & cool = males. 

1/25 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Be freeeeee....

1/25 sec, 14mm, f/3.5, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R). Be freeeeee....

The turtle hatchlings from earlier were then released on the beach. We were asked to keep our torches off because the hatchlings move in the direction of the light. The lead Ranger kept his light on as he stood ankle deep in the sea waving his light around. He said he thinks they're attracted to the light because they think it's the moon? 

We stood in a semi-circle around the basket. We were only allowed to touch them if they were moving in the wrong direction. Which, lucky enough for Martina, meant that she got to touch a few! She was very excited and said they felt very soft and leathery.

"Soo cute!!"


5:30 a.m. 18th July '14

Unsatisfied with the pictures taken from the night before. I was struck with the idea to get up early and try to catch a few latecomers to the island. My considerations:

  • The beach is off-limits between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
  • Breakfast is at 6:30 a.m.
  • Boat leaves at 7:00 a.m.
  • I did confirm with the ranger that there always is the chance of latecomers 
  • Sunrise produces good quality light!!!
1/1000 sec, 12mm, f/2.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). A delicious travel moment =]

1/1000 sec, 12mm, f/2.0, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). A delicious travel moment =]

1/50 sec, 12mm, f/2.0, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Weary from egg laying.

1/50 sec, 12mm, f/2.0, ISO1600 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Weary from egg laying.

Woot Woot!! MAMA TURTLE SPOTTED!

At first I was hesitant to get too close, because I didn't want to startle her. But after awhile, I realised she cared little for my presence. So I slowly edged closer for a better picture. I arrived at the tail-end of her egg laying, where she was covering her nest with sand and began to plod wearily back to sea.

1/160 sec, 12mm, f/3.2, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Animals are so awesome!

1/160 sec, 12mm, f/3.2, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Animals are so awesome!

*plod*

1/200 sec, 12mm, f/3.2, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Desaturated shot for fun.

1/200 sec, 12mm, f/3.2, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Desaturated shot for fun.

*plod*

Notice the sand under her eye? It's the salty-mucus that helps turtles to excrete excess salt from their bodies, which is often mistaken for turtle tears. 

1/200 sec, 12mm, f/3.5, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). My first 500px photo

1/200 sec, 12mm, f/3.5, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). My first 500px photo

My favourite shot of the experience! (above)

1/250 sec, 12mm, f/4.0, ISO200. Such a lucky moment, when she just stops perfectly in front of the GoPRO.

1/250 sec, 12mm, f/4.0, ISO200. Such a lucky moment, when she just stops perfectly in front of the GoPRO.

"Hello GoPRO"

"Hello Mama Turtle, you rest here while I video you"

"=]"


GoPRO??? 

Then where is the footage? BELOW! Keep scrolling...

1/640 sec, 12mm, f/5.6, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Ocean-bound.

1/640 sec, 12mm, f/5.6, ISO200 (M.Zuiko 12mm). Ocean-bound.

I felt for the mama turtle, as she pulled herself over the cragged rocks. When about 30m to the right, it was open water. FYI I think she came to shore this way too :( 

Video captured on GoPRO HD Hero 2 and edited with GoPRO Studio 2. Selingan Island, Sabah Malaysia.

Till next time...