Selingan Island is one of three islands that form the Turtle Islands National Park, located approximately 40 km north of Sandakan. The beaches of Selingan, Bakungan Kecil and Gulisan Islands are nesting sites for both green and hawksbill turtles. Only Selingan is open to visitors and the island is accessed via a 1-hour speedboat ride from Sandakan. The 8-hectare island has a range of facilities including accommodation, café, park HQ and interpretive centre.
Best Time To Visit
Although turtles lay eggs all year round the best time to visit Selingan is between July and October when the sea conditions are calmer and the number of turtle landings is higher. From November to February the seas are rougher but it is still possible to visit the island.
As turtle landings normally occur after dusk an overnight stay is highly recommended. In addition to having the chance of seeing turtle landings, visitors can observe park rangers collect eggs, tag turtles and release baby turtles.
Both Green and Hawksbill turtles visit Selingan Island throughout the year to nest. The peak nesting season for Green turtles is from July to October. The peak months for Hawksbill turtles are from February to April.
Female turtles drag themselves up the beach and then search for a site to nest. If disturbed before they start to lay eggs they will return to the sea. Once the turtle has found a suitable site she starts digging with her rear flippers. When the hole is deep enough she starts laying eggs. The number of eggs in a clutch varies widely and ranges from 40-200. A typical clutch size is 60-80 eggs.
When the turtle has laid all of her eggs she covers the nest with sand and conceals the site. Finally, exhausted she returns to the sea. The whole egg laying process can take 1-2 hours.
The Turtle Hatchery
All new turtles that land at Selingan are measured and tagged. Rangers also record the number of eggs.
When the turtle has returned to the sea the park rangers recover the eggs and transfer them to the island’s turtle hatchery. The eggs are re-buried in pits that are 75 cm deep, covered with sand and surrounded by a plastic mesh. Turtle nesting data is recorded on a metal plate attached to the mesh.
The sex of the turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand. The temperature varies based on the depth of the nest, type of sand and weather. Higher sand temperatures result in more female hatchlings. Some areas of the hatchery are shaded to ensure varied temperatures and a mix of males and females.
The turtle hatchlings emerge from the nest after 50-60 days. This process usually takes places at night but on rare occasions can occur during the day. The baby turtles are released at various sites around the island shortly after they hatch. Once in the ocean they are vulnerable and are preyed on by fish and birds. It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survives to adulthood.
There is chalet-style accommodation on the island. Travel to the turtle islands is usually done as package with the standard trip being a two day, one night tour including transport, room and meals.
Getting To Selingan Island
Boats depart for Selingan from the Sabah Parks boat jetty in Sandakan at 10.45 am. It is advisable to get to the jetty by 10 am to register with the parks office. It takes around 1 hour to get the island. The return boat departure from Selingan is at 7 am.