We spent the day swimming, snorkelling and lounging on a stunning secluded beach on Selingan, an island of just 7.2 hectares, north east of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea. In the evening we met our guide, Wesley, for our briefing, and then watched a quick documentary about the island and the turtles that come there every day of the year to lay their eggs. Then, dinner, and time to wait patiently for the ranger’s call.
Kevin predicted it would come at 9:30 pm and he was spot on. The ranger ran to us, calling “Group one! Group one!” and we were off, jogging as much as we could in our flip flops through the sand toward a light on the beach, where another ranger knelt beside an enormous Green Turtle who was laying her eggs.
We stood behind her in a semi-circle so that we wouldn’t frighten her, and watched as she lay the last twenty or thirty of her 120 clutch of ping-pong-ball-sized white eggs into a hole she’d just spent about an hour digging. When she started covering up the eggs, it was time for us to go. The ranger collected the eggs in a small blue bucket and we walked back with him and Wesley to the hatchery to bury them.
Rowan had a special “future biologist” view right beside the ranger as he dug a hole about two feet deep, placed all the eggs inside and covered them up again with sand. Next he placed a green netting around the hole and labeled it with a small white stake in the sand, indicating the date, number of eggs and type of turtle. Then it was back to the beach to watch as the rangers released a bucketful of tiny baby Green Turtles that had just hatched in the last few days after two months in their eggshells under the sand.
A ranger held one up to show us how it scrambled in the air, eager to get into the water, and even let its flippers touch Rowan’s hand. Wesley stood in the shallow water with a flashlight as the other ranger emptied the bucket onto the white sand. All the babies made for the brightest point they could find and so swarmed Wesley’s feet in no time. The waves pushed some of them back to shore once or twice before they were all swimming happily into the reefs around the beach.
They will hang out there eating seaweed for about five days before their instincts lure them out into deeper water. When they’re between 15 and 30 years old, they’ll mature and the females will return back to this beach to lay their own eggs, tiny crystals in their skulls tuning them into the magnetic field of the island, beckoning them back again and again, for hopefully 70 or more years to come.