Asia Travel News

Take a trip to turtle island

Slowly but surely, the tiny baby turtles break through their leathery egg shells and begin to carefully waddle out of their nest. Without their mother, they're left unprotected, and a perilous expanse of beach sand lies between them and the safe embrace of the ocean tide. Dodging dangerous predators, the little turtles make a mad dash for the open water. Sadly, very few will survive the journey.

Seeing turtle hatchlings scuttle through the beach sand is a moving experience, and an unbeatable sight for nature lovers. There are few places better than Turtle Islands National Park for seeing the exciting event.

A carefully preserved park
Just north of Sandakan, Malaysia, tucked into the gentle waters of the Sulu Sea, are the three small islands that make up Turtle Islands National Park. This is a safe haven for the endangered green and hawksbill turtles that painstakingly trudge up the beaches on a daily basis. Lucky tourists have the opportunity to spend the day on Selingan Island. Once there, travelers are welcome to soak up the sun, enjoy the surf and snorkel with the other sea life offshore. However, the most popular attractions to the island have to be the large mother turtles that come to nest or the energetic hatchlings that race for the open water.

Terrific turtle triumphs
According to the non-profit turtle protection organization SEE Turtles, roughly one out of every thousand hatchlings will live to full maturity in natural conditions. Threatened by natural predators like crabs, birds and raccoons, escaping to the ocean water is treacherous. Even once they enter the tide, fish and crabs still threaten them until they mature. Fortunately, the officials at Turtle Islands National Park go to great lengths to protect the turtle population because species of green and hawksbill turtles have become endangered. Now, tourists are welcome to see the magic of the baby turtle journey on a relatively daily basis, as mother turtles lay eggs year-round.

After getting to the water, baby turtles disappear for a time referred to as the "lost years," according to SEE Turtles. During this time, the turtles stay exclusively in the water. Feeding on jellyfish, seaweed, fish eggs and crustaceans, the turtles will swim through the ocean and grow to about the size of a dinner plate before heading back to coastal waters. It is still unknown where the turtles travel during their "lost years," because they're hard to track during this period.

Reaching maturity
After returning to the water of the beach shores, the turtles continue to grow and mature. They reach full adulthood between 20 and 50 years after hatching. Females will actually return to the beach they hatched from in order to make a nest and lay eggs, according to SEE Turtles, and officials still do not know exactly how the turtles manage to navigate back to their place of origin.

After reaching maturity, sea turtles continue to feed near the coastlines and lay batches of eggs every  two to three years. The exact lifespan of some species is still unknown, but National Geographic reported that some sea turtles can live to well over 80 years old. Others believe some species may live for over a century.

For more exciting turtle adventures, travelers may want to look into a visit to the beaches of Mozambique. Here, migrating dolphins and whales, colorful reefs and - of course - peaceful turtles make their home in the water just off shore. An extra treat, the elusive dugong also swims through the waters nearby. Seeing this creature is a rare experience and a real treat for international travelers.

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