The Turtle Islands Park is made up of three islands in the Sulu Sea off the coast of Sabah's East Coast and near the maritime border with the Philippines. The three islands are Selingan (sometimes spelled Selingaan), Bakkungan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan. Selingan is the largest and is the only one of the three islands that allows visitors to stay overnight.
The islands making up the park are the breeding grounds for Hawksbill and Green Turtles. At night, female turtles come up onto the beach and lay their eggs in the sand. Park rangers check and tag the turtles before removing their eggs and placing them in a hatchery. Each night newly hatched babies are released into the sea.
Flora and faunaEdit
Visits to Pulau Selingan are only available as part of a organised tour with an approved guide authorised by Sabah Tourism. Travel out to the island takes about an hour by boat from Sandakan jetty 1 km north of the main town, it is within walking distance from the centre of Sandakan. Just beyond the fish market as the road dips the jetty is on the right, easily seen as from 09:00 there are 6 tourist mini-vans in the small car park entrance. Arriving by car/mini van is a 2-km trip as the vehicles pass the jetty then travel further on to a turning point in the road and travel back to the jetty.
The boat leaves at 09:30 once all the guides have checked who is present and the park authorities have the information they need. There may be a delay if the weather is inclement.
Depending on the season the weather out on the sea beyond Sandakan can be very rough 2-3 metre waves, also it can be extremely smooth in the early morning.
The boat transfers have hard plastic moulded seating and impacting with waves can be painful. Rain storms blowing through are common so expect to get wet.
Video cameras and flash photography are banned, but this is not strictly enforced although prolonged bright light at night is. Photography while walking around the island is allowed as is underwater filming, there is not a camera fee, unlike some other parks in Sabah. All tourists are escorted to start with a Sabah Parks/Sabah Tourism approved guide.
There are no extra fees on Pulau Selengin. You have to book a visit overnight stay via a tour operator. They are online, and using other internet sites you can see costs and travel timings, etc. These are reasonably fixed, but prices vary, so best to check before buying your visit. The security situation (Jan 2018) may place some restrictions in the future, (there is a night time curfew for all boats), so this must be checked before booking.
Overnight visitors to Pulau Selingan are given the opportunity to view a mother turtle laying her eggs; see the rangers burying the eggs in the hatchery; hold a hatchling and witness the hatchlings being released into the sea. Visitors are not allowed to roam the island during the hours of darkness, so meet in the cafeteria or stay in your lodge room, to await being called by a ranger when a turtle has landed. It may be called Turtle Island but you may stay then see no turtles. There is only one beach to safely swim from and it is made up of small pieces of sharp coral so footwear is a good idea, swimming at night is a bad idea as there is no light.
There is a small drinks shop inside the main lodge upstairs is a information and history room about Pulau Selengin/Sandakan and the turtle rescue project.
During the day, visitors can enjoy the beaches and snorkel in the sea. Snorkels and fins are available for hire on the island.
There is only one beach/swim area as the rest of the edges of the island have very strong undertows.
There is a police presence on the island (as part of ESSCOM, East Sabah Security Command) to protect the turtles, smuggling, immigration. They have separate accommodation from the overnight tourists.
The island has a superb star scape due to the lack of light pollution, so do not forget to look up and enjoy it.
Buffet meals are provided in the cafeteria as part of the visit to the Island. The food is pleasant and just enough for the 12 people and guides, boat drivers, and staff. A small shop for beer and cold drinks is open for the evening meal and closes at 21:00 so take some cash, no cards.
Upstairs is a history room and your guide will walk you through the room, picture cards and photos are available to buy.
Accommodation is in a lodge providing basic but clean and comfortable air-conditioned individual rooms the beds and foam pillows are excellent. There is nowhere to hang your dry/wet clothes so bring a cord and create your own. Lock your door and window as the monitor lizards if they smell food will trash your room to find it. There are no snakes or crabs, just the odd lizard and turtle.