14.12.2012 - 14.12.2012 32 °C
After being advised by our hostel owner this morning that we should insist on being let onto the tour for Turtle Island today, we headed off to the docks (and Crystal Quest offices) early. The woman at the office was unimpressed when she saw us again and told us, once more, that the trip was fully booked. On trying to weasel information out of her, we decided that there was something dodgy going on, as she seemed quite evasive and kept telling us to go to see the tour operators. We politely declined and told her that, if she didn't mind, we would just wait on the docks until the trip departed to see if any last minute spots opened up.... low and behold, within fifteen minutes of people beginning to arrive for the trip, two spots magically became available! How strange!! WIN!!!
So off we sped towards a set of islands shared between Malaysia and the Phillipines that act as a turtle reserve, with protected beaches for laying, and hatcheries to help protect the young when they make their way to the sea! Very exciting! On arrival, we grabbed our room key and made off for the offices where we could hire snorkel gear and then on to our room to get changed for an hour of sunbathing before lunch (can you tell we're Brits?!).
After lunch (where we discovered that there were less than 30 tourists on the island, which can hold a total of 50 - and Crystal Quest thought the trip was fully booked?!) we wandered around the island - it didn't take long - and then headed back to the beach for some snorkelling. Seeing as this was a reserve, we expected the snorkelling to be good, but unfortunately it wasn't. We saw a few cool things, but it was no Gili Meno! Back on the beach, Tam worked on topping up her tan, while I entertained myself by doing a photo shoot with Patch (see blog below).
By 6.30pm we were back at the visitors centre to read all the information boards in the exhibition hall. They were not as well done as in Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, but we learned a little bit. The infomative video that followed was much better! And then we ran for the buffet dinner..... this was a cunning plan of ours as (I apologise now if this sounds a little racist, it is, in fact, just a fact!) the group of people on the island with us were mainly made up of a Chinese tour group and when it comes to food they are gannets! We made it near enough to the front of the queue and took as much as we could fit on our plates, as there would be no chance of going back for seconds! Second win of the day! :-) Dinner was delicious - there were potatoes!
After dinner, we waited to be able to see a female come up to the beach to lay her eggs. We waited a long time. But as we've been told many a time whilst away - wildlife is wild and therefore unpredictable. But by 10.30pm the rangers were getting anxious to release the hatched young green turtles, so we headed down to the beach to watch the release. Cue hundreds of cameras and a general lack of respect for these poor young creatures. Tam, me and the other two Brits on the tour were a little horrified by the behaviour of the other tourists.... the poor little turtles were being manhandled left, right and centre! All the same, it was amazing to see such tiny little things making their way into the sea for the first time!
After this, we overheard that a female was on the beach laying, so we headed over to take a look. Unfortuantely, the tour group got there first with torches and cameras and noise, and by the time we arrived a few minutes later, the rangers were looking as harrassed as the huge green turtle female, who had stopped laying because of all the disturbance. We watched the rangers taking measurements and then respectfully left to the egg transplantation at the hatchery. The rangers dug a deep hole, placed in the newly laid eggs and then loosely covered it with sand and marked it. The new young will hatch in 3 months time and be escorted to the release site to ensure their safety.
It was an amazing thing to see, but really made us understand the pros and cons of mixing ecotourism with conservation. But in the end, Tam and I had to resign ourselves to the fact that the disturbance of one turtle a night was not enough to justify the loss of such a large source of conservation funding. Still a great project and worth the visit.