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Selingan Turtle Islands (non-diving)

The Turtle Islands Park lies 40km north of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea off Sabah’s east coast. It encompasses 1,740 hectares which includes the three islands of Selingan Island, Bakkungan Kecil Island and Gulisan Island. The islands are built over shallow rocky shoals from coral shingle from the surrounding reef on the fringes. They are covered with a variety of plant life which includes mangrove, lantana, the yellow-flowered sophora and the furry silver-leaved Tournefortia.

The main attractions here, however are the turtles which come to nest on their shores, Selingan Island is the main nesting area for the green turtles chelonian mydas, while the hawkbill turtles Eretmochelys seem particularly attracted to the shores of Gelisan Island. Both species lay theirs eggs on these shores throughout the year, although the best months are between July to October. The islands were gazetted as Marine Parks in 1977 primarily for the protection of these two species in order to save them from extinction.

A visit to these islands is a must on your itinerary, if you are interested in the conservation on these turtles.


Selingan Turtle Island  Beach

Selingan Turtle Island Snorkeling area

Baby Turtle

The Islands

Selingan Island. Almost 8 hectares in size is the second largest island in the group. The turtles come ashore on the east and southwestern parts of the island to lay egg before returning to the sea. They normally come ashore after 7.30 pm but have also been seen nesting in the early hours of the morning between 5 to 6am.

Bakkungan Kecil Island. This is the largest island and its lies close to the Philippines border. Active mud volcanoes are also present here. These are not true volcanoes but originate as mineral-rich mud, expelled from deep below the surface. The favourite nesting places of the green turtles are the beaches on the northern and western shores of the island.

Gulisan Island. The island is a mere 1.6 hectare in size but remains one of the favourite haunts of the hawkbill turtles which lay their eggs on the northern, eastern and southwestern beaches. All sea turtles eat marine animals such as sponges, marine worms and mollusks and the hawksbill are no exception. Being carnivorous, they feed on the invertebrate animals of the coral reefs. The adult green turtles however, are strict vegetarians, limiting their diet to the underwater grass and seaweed.

Baby turtle released into the sea

Marine Turtles Conservation

The turtles really take their time laying their eggs. The whole ritual of emerging from the sea, then choosing a suitable site and clearing the area before laying its eggs (about 40 to 90 eggs per batch) concealing the eggs with sand and finally taking their leave takes one whole hour. So prepared for a long wait if you wish to observe the nesting.

Park staff collect the eggs and transfer them to hatcheries where every effort is made to ensure successful hatching. After an incubation period of about 50 to 60 days, the hatchlings dig their way up to the surface and they are later released to the sea from the different points around the islands. They are then on their own, to survive the dangers at sea and perhaps return one day to lay eggs on the very same shores as their mother once did.


Turtle Laying Eggs

Turtle Eggs

Hutchery at Selingan

Getting There

There are boat services from Sandakan Harbour to the islands. The journey may take anything between 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on your destination and the boat's speed.

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