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Turtle swiming with snorkellers | Snorkelling Tour, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Where is Turtle Island and why is it famous?

If you’re planning a trip to the stunning paradise of Borneo, one of the world’s biggest islands, then an expedition to turtle island should definitely be on your to-do list. Located on the Eastern coast of Borneo, Turtle Island (or Pulau Selingan) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region, forming part of the incredible Sabah National Park.

The most famous place in Borneo for turtle viewings, Turtle Island is the perfect environment for adults and kids alike to witness one of nature’s greatest phenomena. Plus, it’s one of the few places in the world where turtles may choose to nest 365 days of the year!

Here’s everything you need to know about the awe-inspiring Turtle Island.

What is Turtle Island, and where is it?

Turtle Island, and the Turtle Islands Marine Park, is a conservation centre, designated by the Sabah state government for the protection of endangered Green and Hawksbill turtles. The 1,1740-hecatre marine park acts as both a breeding ground and haven for turtles, attracting travellers far and wide.

Turtle Island Park is located in the Sulu Sea, 40km north of Sandakan, and is actually made up of three distinct islands: Selingan, Gulisan, and the Bakungan Kecil islands. Malaysia’s first turtle hatchery was originally established on Selingan Island in 1966. In 1997, this island, along with the Gulisan and Bakungan Kecil islands were assigned complete marine conservation park status.

The park is managed by Sabah Parks, with full-time wardens located throughout to monitor and protect the turtles and their hatcheries. While two of the islands are reserved primarily for research purposes, one island, Selingan island is open to the public, though visitor access is limited.

You can reach turtle island by taking a flight from Kinabalu to Sandakan. From the airport, visitors can take a boat along Jalan Buli Buli Sim to reach Selingan Island.

Why is Turtle Island famous?

Turtle Island is one of the few places in the world where visitors are almost guaranteed to see turtles (both adults and babies) every day of the year. The region is the best turtle viewing spot in Borneo, as well as one of the most popular in the world.

Sitting amongst a stunning turquoise water and reef setting, this island group has been dedicated to the conservation of turtles for nearly 60 years. This makes the conservation program one of the oldest in the world, and one of the most impressive. It has helped researchers uncover incredible insights into the lives of both hawksbill and green turtles.

One of the reasons Turtle Island is so famous is its exclusivity, so booking a trip can be tricky. Visitor numbers are limited to protect the habitat, so early booking is essential. However, regardless of when you choose to visit, you’ll likely be able to see female turtles nesting in the sand every night.

As an added bonus, Turtle Island is also located relatively close to some of the other most popular wildlife destinations in Borneo, such as the Kinabatangan river. This habitat boasts incredible wildlife spotting opportunities, with crocodiles, pygmy elephants, orangutans and more. So if variety of wildlife is your thing, you can combine your trip to Turtle Island with a Kinabatangan river tour.

The Turtles You’ll See on Turtle Island

There are two main species of turtles that regularly visit Turtle Island. The first is the Green turtle, the largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles. These creatures can reach sizes of up to 158kg, despite living on a mostly herbivorous diet of sea grasses and algae. Their nesting period occurs throughout the year, with peak seasons between June and October.  

The second type of turtle you’ll see on Turtle Island is the Hawksbill turtle, one of the smallest turtles in the world, with a shell length of 50 to 65 cm. These turtles have a dark olive colour, and primarily feed on crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans.

Both breeds of turtle are incredible to behold, particularly if you’re lucky enough to spot a few gorgeous babies hatching from their eggs and making their way back into the water. While you can spot turtles and hatchlings all year round, most visitors prefer to go between the months of July and October, when the weather and sea conditions are more favourable.

Can You Visit Turtle Island?

Understandably, visiting Turtle Island can be limited due to its incredible popularity and restrictions on the number of visitors that can attend at any given time. At Borneo Dream we endeavour to share this stunning experience with our clients by working with conservation processes.

Notably, Selingan Island is the only island of the three open to the public if you want to be part of the magical nesting experience. During your visit, you’ll be guided to the nesting sites on the island in the dark, to ensure you don’t disturb the turtles. You’ll be able to see how eggs are collected, how mother turtles are tagged, and how hatchlings dash into the warmth of the Sulu sea.

Through the day, you can choose to relax by the sandy beaches for the duration of your visit, or take a dip in the crystal blue waters yourself. The park offers accommodation for your overnight stays in chalet style rooms, giving you the best chance to witness turtles laying eggs. Bear in mind, though, that visitors are permitted to stay on the island for one to two days. Contact Borneo Dream today to arrange your Turtle Island 2 day excursion, and browse the huge range of other wildlife excursions that we have available.

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