The Turtle Islands Park (TPPP) located about 40 kilometres from here has been instrumental in turtle conservation since 1966.
TPPP encompasses three islands – Pulau Selingaan, Bakkungan Kechil and Gulisaan – covering an area of 1,740 hectares. The first turtle hatchery in Malaysia was commissioned in Pulau Selingaan in 1966. Two years later the two other islands also started their own hatcheries.
Pulau Gulisaan is the main landing point for the Hawksbill turtle in Southeast Asia. Another species that makes its way to TPPP is the Green Turtle.
Realising how important the marine habitat is, the Sabah state government bought over the three islands and turned it into a marine park in 1977. Since then it has been under the care of the Sabah Parks, an agency under Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry.
In the bigger picture, TPPP is also part of the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area that encompasses six other islands in the Philippine waters – Laagan, Bakkungan Besar, Lihiman, Taganak, Boaan and Baguan – to provide integrated protection for the Hawksbill and Green turtle.
TPPP’s Manager Fazrullah Rizally Abdul Said noted that the islands within the park recorded the highest number of turtle landings each year compared to anywhere else in Malaysia.
Last year alone it was estimated that more than 6,000 turtles landed on the three islands to lay eggs.
“What is interesting is that the hatcheries here are the most productive in Southeast Asia in the efforts to conserve and protect turtles from extinction,” he told Bernama.
Fazrullah Rizally was met at Pulau Bakkungan Kechil during a programme entitled the Enhancement of Sea Turtle Protection and Management in Sabah.
One of the pertinent aspects in conservation is enhancing the survival rate of the turtle hatchlings.
According to him, several park rangers have been stationed on the island to enforce the Sabah Parks Enactment 1984, and visitors or tourists cannot freely enter the beach area from 6.30 pm to 6 am the following day.
This is to ensure they don’t frighten away the turtles coming to the shore to lay eggs as they are highly sensitive to movement and light.
Fazrullah Rizally stressed that fishing activities have been forbidden in any part of the TPPP area, for the sake of protecting the turtles.
Research, including cooperation of foreign researchers, is the key element in achieving the long term goals of Sabah Parks.
Regarding research on turtles, the activities being carried out involved marking the turtles for identification purposes, transferring the eggs to the hatchery, maintaining the hatchery and releasing the hatchlings into the sea.
Monitoring and data collection are conducted continuously.
“All the activities relating to turtle conservation management beginning with the landing of the turtle, transfer of the eggs to the hatchery, incubating the eggs and releasing the hatchlings into the sea are conducted according to recommendations by turtle experts,” he said.
Public Awareness Programme
Fazrullah Rizally said awareness on turtle conservation has been targeted at tourists as well, especially those who come to Pulau Selingaan.
Each day in the late evening, a briefing and video presentation for tourists will be held before the Turtle Watch Programme commences during the night.
Tourists putting up for the night in Pulau Selingaan will only have one opportunity to view the turtles landing to lay eggs, the transfer of these eggs to the hatchery, how the hatchery is maintained and how the hatchlings are released.
He also said that the public awareness campaign was also targeted at villagers living nearby.
The awareness programme was also conducted in five schools – SK Pulau Libaran, SK Pulau Nunuyan Laut, SK Tanjung Aru, SK Pulau Sanghai and SK Pulau Timbang.