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Turtle Islands National Park (Taman Pulau Penyu) is located in the Sulu Sea some 40 kilometres north of Sandakan, on Sabah’s northeast coast.

Athough the Turtle Islands group comprises ten islands in all, the park consists of only three islands – Selingaan, Bakkungan Kechil and Gulisaan – plus the surrounding coral reefs and ocean, with a total area of 17.4 square kilometres. The remaining seven islands belong to the Philippines.The park is a major turtle breeding site, and throughout the year, but particularly between April and October, large numbers of green turtles and lesser numbers of hawksbills come ashore at night to dig nests in the sand.

Permanent wardens patrol the beaches, monitor the turtles and tag any first-time visitors for research purposes; they collect the eg

Throughout the year, but particularly between April and October, large numbers of green turtles and lesser numbers of hawksbills come ashore at night to dig nests in the sand. Permanent wardens patrol the beaches, monitor the turtles and tag any first-time visitors for research purposes; they collect the eggs, which are then incubated in enclosures free from the risk of predation.

Visitors are permitted to watch this fascinating process; but only under strict control and general access to the beaches is prohibited between sunset and sunrise. Only one individual turtle may be observed coming ashore each night, and visitors are required to vacate the beach immediately afterwards so as to minimise disturbance to other turtles. Not all nests have their eggs collected – some are left to hatch naturally to ensure that the complex food chain that includes turtle predators does not suffer.

As long ago as 1966, Malaysia’s first turtle hatchery was established on the tiny island of Selingan, funded entirely by the Sabah state government. Hatcheries were subsequently established on the other two islands, and the area was upgraded to a marine park in 1977. Sabah’s turtle conservation programme is the oldest in the world and has the most detailed statistics. Although marine turtles have been around for at least 230 million years, due to human activities over the last century they have been brought to the verge of extinction.

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: flying fox, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, collared kingfisher, brown-throated sunbird
  • Where: Sabah State, Borneo