One hour boat ride off Sandakan is the Turtle Island Park. Gazetted in 1977 and made up of three islands – Selingan, Bakungan Kecil and Gulisan islands, Turtle Island park is a safe haven for the endangered green and hawksbill turtles. The park gives a limited number of visitors the rare opportunity to watch turtle landings.
Selingan, the largest of the islands, houses the park’s headquarters, a turtle hatchery, tourist accommodation and basic facilities. The other two islands are more for conservation activities.
During daytime, visitors are free to do beach activities, walk around, sunbathing and snorkeling. There is also the park’s exhibition hall and and a video presentation are usually done at night.
As turtle landings usually occur after dusk, an overnight stay would be the best plan to see the turtles as they come ashore to lay their eggs. Rangers will inform if there are any turtle landings and visitors are allowed to follow the rangers to witness turtle laying eggs. Shining a light on them or using camera flashes should be avoided as either can be stressful on the creatures. The rangers will then collect the eggs and move them to the hatchery area.
Turtles lay their eggs throughout the year, but the best time to head there is between July and October when the sea is calmer. Observe the collection of eggs, tagging of mother turtles and releasing baby turtles to the sea. To further promote turtle conservation, visitors are encourage to participate in the turtle nest adoption program. Each adoption will get a certificate of adoption, displayed name on the turtle nest and updates of their nest development from time to time.
Permission to visit the Park must be obtained from Sabah Parks and can be applied through Crystal Quest, the management in-charge of operating accommodation at Turtle Island. Their office is located at Sabah Park Jetty in Sandakan. Visitors are advised to book in advance to prevent disappointment as there are limited number of rooms on the island.