Turtle Islands Park

Turtle Islands Park

Experience the exhilaration of helping to preserve one of nature's most gentle creatures at Sabah's Turtle Islands Park.

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The Turtle Islands Park is unlike any other park found in Malaysia. Do not expect to see stretches of greenery nor tall trees or plants there, as the usual forest green has been swapped for an expanse of ocean blue. The park consists of three islands, Pulau Bakkungan Kechil, Pulau Selingan and Pulau Gulisan, located approximately 40 kilometres north of Sandakan. The three islands are part of a colony of ten islands, out of which seven belong to the Municipality of Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi in Philippines.

The first fully funded turtle hatchery by the Sabah state government was established on Pulau Selingan on 1 August 1966, followed by the other two islands soon after. The islands, along with the coral reefs surrounding them, were then designated as a Game and Bird Sanctuary in 1972 and subsequently upgraded to the status of a marine park five years later. The islands are famous for the green and hawksbill turtles that come ashore every year to lay their eggs on their sandy beaches. The conservation program adopted by these islands is the oldest in the world, yielding the most comprehensive and detailed statistics and research on these magnificent creatures.

Pulau Bakkungan Kechil

The largest amongst the three islands, Pulau Bakkungan Kechil, is located closest to the Philippines border. The green turtles have chosen this island to be their preferred place for nesting, often heading towards the beaches at the northern and western part of the island. Active mud volcanoes are also found on this island. These volcanoes expel mineral enriched mud instead of the customary red hot lava. The island does not offer any accommodation facilities as it is not open to casual tourists.

Pulau Selingan

Covering an area of 8 hectares, this is the second largest as well as the most developed island of the three. It houses the park's headquarters, a visitor's centre, a turtle hatchery and also provides basic tourist facilities like accommodation and a restaurant. As the turtles come ashore during night time, visitors can take the opportunity to go reef snorkeling or just laze around the beach during day time. The park's policy of allowing visitors to watch only one turtle landing at night ensures that the other turtles are not disturbed when they are nesting throughout the night. Other rules, such as not allowing visitors on the beaches from dusk till dawn, also enable the turtles to lay their eggs in a less stressful environment, encouraging them to return to the islands again to nest. The park rangers usually collect the eggs to be placed in an incubation chamber as the female turtle is laying them. Visitors also get the rare opportunity of holding a baby turtle before it is released into the sea at night. Releasing the baby turtles at night increases their chances of survival as there are less predators during night time. For the curious, a small visitor's centre is open in the evening offering more information about the sea turtles as well as other parks found in Sabah.

Pulau Gulisan

The smallest of the three islands, Pulau Gulisan is another island that attracts turtles during their nesting season. The hawkbill turtles that nest on this island tend to favour the northern, eastern and southwestern beaches. Like Pulau Bakkungan Kechil, the island does not offer any accommodation as it serves as a conservation centre.

The park is only accessible by boat from the town of Sandakan. Visitors can board from the Sabah Park jetty in Sandakan town and the journey to Pulau Selingan takes approximately an hour.

There are three fully furnished chalets available on Pulau Selingan that are managed by a private company. Due to the fact that the park is first and foremost dedicated to turtle conservation and not tourism, the number of tourists allowed on the island overnight is limited to 38.