We spent last night in the town of Sandakan which used to be the capitol of North Borneo. It is nice to get needed provisions and have a good sleep. It was especially great that we all got to have dinner with Siew Te Wong, the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and bombarded him with questions that he answered with humor and grace. We are very excited to spend time at the center later this week.
This morning we had an adventurous boat ride into the Sulu Sea to Turtle Island. Turtle Islands Park is located 40 km north of Sandakan and consist of tree islands, Pulau Selingaan, Pulau Bakkungaan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan. The park is known for its protection of the nesting of two endangered species of the sea turtle, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the smaller hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). The two turtle species lay their eggs here year-round.
This afternoon was free beach time and everyone had a ball snorkeling in the clear waters and relaxing in the sand. As only 50 people can come to the conservation island per night, it was a peaceful and relaxing experience. We all got to see one of my favorite sea creatures, the Christmas tree worms, a very bright and colorful polycheates, or marine burrowing worm.
Finally, after dinner and a film about the program, the announcement was made, “It’s Turtle Time!”. We followed the turtle team into the night and onto the beach where a huge mama green turtle had crawled up and dug herself a trench. We watched in awe as she laid around 100 wet, white eggs that looked like ping pong balls. The staff collected the eggs and took them to a hatchery, where they buried them and labeled the nest. This keeps them safe from feeding reptiles, or other turtle mamas laying their own eggs.
Next, we walked to the edge of the sea and lined up behind a drawn line in the sand, cameras at the ready. In the arms of the staff was a laundry basket filled with a new clutch of hatchlings. They squirmed about all over each other, waiting for the moment when they were let loose. The basket was gently tipped over, and out they scrambled. As a conservationist, I am not allowed to use the word “cute”, but WOW — it was hard not to pick one up and give it a kiss for good luck. Instead, we did get to steer a few wayward ones towards the sea, but in general, the 100 babies knew exactly where they were going.
I am now writing by headlamp, Lovesong fast asleep. Another big day in Borneo! I can’t help but marvel over the wild miracles of nature. After those babies enter the big sea, they experience the “lost years”, and only 1% will survive long enough to return to lay eggs themselves. We were told they navigate through crystals in their heads that work as a magnetic compass. These are the mysteries of nature. I couldn’t dream up more miraculous stuff.