The most famous place in Borneo for getting the chance to see Turtles is Turtle Island located off the east coast of Sabah. The beaches of Turtle Island are visited every night of the year by two endangered turtle species, the green turtle and the hawksbill.
Turtle Island (Pulau Selingan) is one of three islands in Turtle Island Marine Park dedicated to green and hawksbill turtle conservation, and the only island which permits visitors to view turtles nesting and hatchlings being released. The turtle hatchery and the turtle conservation programme on Turtle Island (managed by Sabah Parks) is the oldest in the world. To visit Turtle Island you need to book an overnight stay, typically as part of a 2D1N tour.
Nearby islands on the east coast of Sabah, such as Lankayan Island and Libaran Island, also offer a similar experience but on a smaller scale.
If you are a scuba diver you also have the opportunity to see Turtles during dives at Sipadan and on islands located close to Sipadan, like Pulau Mataking. With Sipadan being a turtle nesting site you’re pretty much guaranteed to see Turtles (and several of them) on every dive. Turtles are also found along the coral reefs fringing the islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park located in front of Kota Kinabalu offering both snorkelers and divers the chance to see them (if you’re lucky).
Female turtles return to shore only to lay their eggs, on the same beach where they hatched many years before. Depending on the species, the location, and the temperature, the turtle nesting season varies.
Luckily Turtle Island in Borneo is one of the few places in the world where turtles arrive 365 days of the year to nest. Both green and hawksbill turtles nest at Turtle Island in high numbers which means the chances of seeing a mother laying her eggs are high all year round. The female turtles come ashore every evening to lay eggs, and can number up to 50 at a time during peak season (between July and October). The beaches are vacated each evening so as not to disturb the turtles and to encourage the turtles to return and nest multiple times.
If you wanted to know a bit more about how often a female turtle will nest at Turtle Island most species nest several times during a nesting season every 2-4 years over the course of their lifetime. On average, sea turtles lay 110 eggs per nest, with 2 to 8 nests per season. The largest clutches are of the hawksbills, which can lay more than 200 eggs per nest.
This makes Turtle Island a great place to visit if watching a turtle nest (an amazing experience) is on your ‘must-see’ list when coming on holiday to Borneo.
This question is often asked due to your country FCO advising against “all but essential travel to all islands off the eastern coast of Sabah”. To be able to answer this question we need to understand how FCO advice works, know more about the current safety situation in Sabah and what security measures are in place to keep Turtle Island safe.
FCO advise is typically based on their assessment at the time of a security incident and not necessarily based on the current situation on the ground. As such travel advisories tend to err on the side of over-caution and their advice can take months if not years to be downgraded regardless of actual conditions on the ground.
In Sabah there have been a small number of abduction cases / attempts at kidnapping between 2000 – 2016 with the Abu Sayyaf group being the main perpetrators for most cases. To address this security threat the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) was established a few years ago. ESSCom strives to reinforce security measures in the east coast of Sabah utilising military patrols, police and Maritime units. An enforced night time curfew on boats also helps by restricting undetected incursions. It is fair to say that since these measures have been taken, no security incidents have taken place so far.
Turtle Island is safe to travel to with the military, Pasukan Gerakan Am (PGA), and ESSCOM both stationed at Turtle Island helping make sure tourists are safe when visiting the islands. The Resort is typically fully booked most days throughout the year with no known security issues ever happening at Turtle Island – so many visitors to Sabah have decided the risk level of visiting Turtle Island is acceptable to them. Where it is impossible to give a 100% assurance of security, we believe that Sabah is ‘very safe’ and we feel comfortable in sending our guests to visit Turtle Island.
Ultimately it is a personal risk decision if you choose to go to Turtle Island. You need to decide if based on the known facts on the ground at the time if they represent a risk level to you that you’re happy to take.