Originally I hoped to visit a turtle sanctuary in Indonesia — a place called Sukamade near Paradise Beach, recommended by a guy I met on a bus to the airport in Perth, Australia. Turtles lay eggs on this beach every night of the year and it’s a sight to behold. But Sukamade is not an easily accessible place — it requires several hours in a 4WD vehicle traversing rough roads and even shallow rivers. I just didn’t have the time to get there and back while traveling between Ijen Crater and Bali.
But I do a little digging on-line and discover a similar island in Malaysia Borneo called, uncreatively, Turtle Island. (Turns out it’s really Selingan Island, but I don’t hear that name once during the trip.) It goes on my must-visit list.
After spending a few days in Kota Kinabalu visiting Rasa Ria and Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, I take a day-long bus to Sandakan on the far-eastern shore of Borneo. I deposit my bags at a hostel and walk to the jetty to secure a ticket for tomorrow’s Turtle Island experience. You can book in advance with a travel agent but they charge almost double — and it’s not a cheap trip to begin with. I plan to spend a few days in Sandakan so I choose to wait it out for a last-minute ticket. Turns out they are sold out for tomorrow and will call me back in the morning if space opens up.
Cut to 8am the next day: I get a phone call that there is indeed space on that day’s trip. Score! Thirty minutes later I’m at the jetty with an overnight bag. Shortly after that we are cruising by tiny islands with private homes that look like this:
We pull up to Turtle Island in the middle of nowhere. It is one of only TWO islands in this area where turtles lay eggs nightly. As such, it is highly protected and only a certain number of guests are allowed to visit each evening.
We pass by the turtle hatchery en route to our simple, clean, hotel-style rooms.
The entire overnight experience is very laid-back. We arrive just before lunch and settle into our rooms. After the meal we have the entire afternoon to relax — swim in the crystal clear water, walk around the island, and soak up the beauty of this place.
When I see the round, dark spots below I wonder for a brief moment if they are turtles. They aren’t — just metal, porous containers where I suspect the baby turtle hatchlings can seek shelter upon their release into the ocean.
It’s a little hard to tell in the photo below, but there is evidence of turtles all over this beach in the form of tracks and the holes they dig nightly to lay eggs. Conservation workers then dig up the eggs and rebury them in the hatchery to protect them from predators like lizards.
Speaking of lizards, we spot this goanna lurking in the woodsy area of the island.
And here’s a stray egg it probably had for an afternoon snack.
Dramatic clouds line the sky in every direction.
The main beach rivals some stretches of sand I encountered in the Cook Islands — and our relatively small group has the whole place to ourselves. It’s glorious.
Snorkeling is a popular activity and once I get into the water it’s easy to see why.
This reminds me of something from The Little Mermaid — these colorful bursts pop out over this rock, but disappear as I swim closer. Then they slowly re-emerge as I calmly hover with my camera.
I spy a giant white clam and am mesmerized by it’s iridescent hue.
And look, it’s NEMO!
These clown fish are typically shy and nestle in sea anemone. But the two below venture far above the safety of the anemone and seem very curious about my camera!
In my haste to pack that morning, I forgot my bathing suit. I make do with a sports bra and swim trunks generously loaned by a fellow traveler. Not my finest moment, but I refuse to allow body image issues to hinder my enjoyment of those blue waters. (Ignore the snorkel mask line on my forehead.)
I just edited this photo and now I’m tempted to go back and add it to my Top Landscape Photos of 2013. Love how this shot turned out.
After sunset all guests must return to either their rooms or the main center so as not to disturb turtles laying eggs on shore. I milk every last minute of sunset.
The tide has gone down by now and exposed those metal containers I spotted underwater earlier. See how they might act as a shelter for just-released baby turtles?
Now that the light has changed, it’s easier to see the holes from previous nights.
The sun has set and it’s officially turtle time. I cannot WAIT to share these photos with you tomorrow! This was a really memorable experience.