Pulau Talang Besar and Pulau Talang Kecil are located 30 minutes offshore from Sematan in Southwest Sarawak. These tiny islands serve as sanctuaries for Green and Hawksbill Turtles. Over 90% of turtle landings are from Green Turtles. The islands are Sarawak’s most important turtle conservation site and are part of the Talang Satang National Park.
Talang-Satang was gazetted in 1999 and covers an area of 19,414 hectares. It was Sarawak’s first marine park and includes the waters surrounding the two Talang Talang Islands and the two Satang Islands (Pulau Satang Besar and Pulau Satang Kecil, located off Damai Beach).
Owing to their small size and fragile environment, the Talang Talang Islands have not been developed for tourism. Instead the government’s emphasis has been on turtle conservation.
Sarawak is a pioneer of turtle conservation with Talang Talang being the first site in the world to be the focus of turtle research and management activities. The now common turtle conservation strategies of tagging adult turtles and relocating eggs to hatcheries were first tried out on the tiny islands of Talang Talang.
Conservation work on the Talang Talang Islands began in the 1940’s when the Sarawak Museum started a long-term research project. Data on turtle landings and nests at Talang Talang dates back to 1946. Conservation efforts were accelerated in the 1950’s when turtle eggs were collected from various sites and transferred to a natural beach hatchery on Pulau Talang Besar.
In 1953 a new method of tagging marine turtles was pioneered in the Talang Talang Islands when American zoologist John R. Hendrickson came up with the idea of using self-piercing, self clinching cow ear tags. Prior to this it was common for researchers to drill a hole in the turtle and attach a tag with wire. These tags were not very durable and often subject to corrosion. Hendrickson ordered a batch of custom made cow ear tags from a supplier in Kentucky. He then set about tagging as many turtles as possible with the new tags attached to the turtle’s foreflipper. Tom Harrisson, the head of the Sarawak Museum, was skeptical of the new approach. In 1956 the first flipper-tagged green turtle landed on Talang Besar to the amazement of Tom Harrison and his wife Barbara who happened to be staying on the island.
Conservation work continues today. Park rangers monitor the beaches, record turtle landings, nests, number of eggs and hatchlings. There are turtle hatcheries on both of the islands. The largest hatchery is on Pulau Talang Besar.
Whilst turtles land on the island’s beaches throughout the year, the main turtle nesting season is from April to October. June, July and August are the busiest months with 10-20 turtle landings per night. 2,000-2,500 nests and 150,000-200,000 eggs are recorded on Pulau Talang Besar each year. On average 65% of eggs hatch.
A turtle volunteer programme on Pulau Talang Besar offers visitors the chance to participate in Sarawak’s turtle conservation efforts.