Supporting Turtle Research in Mantanani, Sabah, Borneo

Looking for Turtles

Looking for Turtles

Supporting Turtle Research in Mantanani, Sabah, Borneo

Borneo Dream supports local marine conservation efforts on a regular basis from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. We recently provided two of our team to support Turtle Research being conducted in the waters surrounding Pulau Mantanani, 48nm north of Kota Kinabalu. The turtle research was being managed by MRF (Marine Research Foundation), under the leadership of Dr Nick Pilcher. Edrie, one of the Borneo Dream Team research volunteers, wrote a blog about her experience. Read more about the start to the Turtle Research activity below – despite a slow start lots of research was conducted, data gathered, building towards a proposal for protecting the waters around Pulau Mantanani, Sabah.

Collecting Turtle Research Data

Collecting Turtle Research Data

“Myself and Ann were the early risers (no-earlier than Dr. Nick) and started the day with coffee and tea, respectively. In between sips, we would just look into the horizon and be in awe with the amazing beauty of Mantanani.

Looking around knowing there are about 200 sea turtles around, the need to make the project a successful one, and hope that the research will help to get Mantanani gazetted into a Marine Park, will be a dream come true . This means the turtles and marine life around Mantanani would be protected from over fishing and unwanted illegal fishing activity.

Pressure, pressure.

Follow up from the previous days work, this morning we will be changing the counter weights on the pipes to hold and make the cage float as it should. Nothing a screwdriver and some hand action can’t fix.

Gathering Turtle Research Data

Gathering Turtle Research Data

With the ever helpful hands from the Camp Borneo students, we had the net tightened up as overnight it has dragged down a little. Seeing this, Dr. Nick advised the adjustment needed and by 9.00am, work was completed.

After a quick break, the gappers made their way back to the camp while the small team prepared for what I call “We are really doing this?” moment. The briefing was brief, intense and detailed. Sounds easy, I thought.

All I needed was to jump just ahead of the turtle, assuming it will swim right into my ready arms and grab a hold of it (without hurting it) and make sure I do not lose a hold on it.

“EASY!” I have jumped on plenty of people who are snorkelling for fun (Safely of course).

Dr Nick Pilcher Weighing Turtles

Dr Nick Pilcher Weighing Turtles

The gear required for Turtle catching would be long protective wetsuits, gloves, dive boots and plenty of suncream. Nick pulled out a hamper with gloves in it. There were 3 pairs of green ones that had a sticky grip to it. We (Ann, Gil and I) thought it was the glove. No turtle will getaway with our sticky gloves on.

As we got on the speed boat, Nick got us into position. Gil was up on the right of the bow and Ann on the left. Myself and Richard positioned ourselves on the back ready to take place.

Then it started.

Eyes all on the clear blue waters of Mantanani. I can see the reef down to at least 5 meters. The lack of clouds made the morning extra hotter and sea water more inviting.

Here we are on the boat trying to spot a turtle be it moving or sitting. We were excited beyond words we would jump on anything that is shaped like a turtle, just because.


Gil made his way up one step on the bow, boat accelerated at high speed making sure we’re on the turtle’s tail. We were going left and right after a turtle who seems to be swimming, gracefully.

“Take it, take it, take it!”

Gil leaped for the turtle and missed sorely.

Releasing a Turtle

Releasing a Turtle

Ann quickly moved into Gil’s spot and Richard moved into Ann’s. My job was then to balance the aluminium speedboat.

“Take it!”

Ann slammed on the water and scared the turtle away and so did Richard.

Nick picked up the 3 out of the water and there I was on the first to go spot. Before long, we spotted the turtle again and Nick slowly cruised next to it and shouted “Get ready!”

I slipped and fell into the water.

Let’s just say that was not the best of feeling and seeing their faces on the boat, in disbelief of what just happened made it worse. As I climbed up the stairs, Nick reminded me what he meant by ‘Get ready.’ I was supposed to be in position to jump and not hanging on the bow. Oh the beaten ego.

After a couple of tries and failing miserably, we break for lunch. Perhaps the so-called Turtle Ninjas were looking a bit too miserable that he told us to go out leisure diving.

Ann, lead the dive for the Gil, Richard and I. As we descended I remember thinking how blue the water was. A deeper blue that made the first few minutes amazing. As we dive above large reef, we were then greeted by a flattened ground by what was believed to be result of a fish bombed reef. It was depressing to see such beautiful place ruined by irresponsible fishing. Hopefully, the research will bring awareness and make Mantanani islands gazetted into a marine park.

Back on Tortuga Madre (the mothership) after the dive, we were back into our turtle gears. We boarded the speed boat and resume position. Turtle after turtle we spotted and each time we missed it. That was when it really hit it us that without the turtle, the project is a no go.

Then you sat thinking, over 200 turtles found and tagged within Mantanani by Dr. Nick himself. How hard can it be?

Come evening time, we were sat on the top deck of the catamaran recalling the day event. Drinks in our hand, the assigned turtle catchers spirit was low.

Dr. Nick reassured us that we will catch the turtle tomorrow.

Turtle 10 – Team 0.”

Good news to follow in Edrie’s next blog.