Heather's Thairy

Heather's journey to Bangkok, Thailand: a year of adventure!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Vacation Day Eight: Turtle Island

Early in the morning on Day 8 Alisa and I were picked up again by our tour guide to start the journey to Turtle Island. The tour that we booked was an overnight excursion out to the island, coming back the next day in time for the morning feeding at the Orangutan Center. We were picked up at the hostel and driven all of five minutes down the road to the Orangutan Center, where we transferred to a bus with six other people, plus two guides and a driver.

After about an hour drive on the bus, we arrived at the river dock. We took a speedboat through a series of river channels before reaching the open sea, where we rode for about another hour to get to Liberan Island, our lunch stop for the day.

It's a very quiet island where people can stay and enjoy the beach and the fishing village that is there...we were there for about an hour and a half, had some decent food and then were back on the speedboat for the rest of the trip to Turtle Island.

Turtle Island is very small and very beautiful. It has beach almost all the way around it, making it perfect for turtles to nest. Unfortunately, the island and the other islands that make up the turtle reserve are shrinking because of natural erosion.
The inner parts of the island are landscaped beautifully and the buildings are well-equipped, clean and nice.

We spent the afternoon on the beach, where you can snorkel simply by wading into the water and sticking your (masked) face in. It was sunny and warm and the snorkeling was great! Despite there being one area designated for beaching and swimming, we still found it relatively isolated and not crowded at all, which made for a peaceful, relaxing afternoon. The beach is shut down at 6 PM, and there are no lights allowed around the perimeter of the island when it starts to get dark because the turtles start to arrive when evening sets in.
When we were on the beach we saw a whole bunch of big holes in the sand with wide tracks leading up to them. Turtle tracks!

We were amazed at how large the tracks were! Evidence that the turtles that come to the island are no small turtles...
We spent the evening in the lodge building, where there is a sort of museum about the islands and the conservation program. It was neat, and we also watched (for the second time) an interpretive video about sea turtles.
We enjoyed another buffet meal (the food was actually pretty good on this tour, which was nice since there weren't any options about what to eat!) and then waited around for the turtle call: each evening, staff members monitor the shores for turtles and then radio to the lodge to let people know to go to the beach to see them nesting. It happens at different times each day but nearly every day turtles come to the island to nest. Our call came around 9:30 PM.

There are two kinds of turtles that come to the island, green turtles and hornbill turtles. That night we saw the larger of the two varieties, the green turtles. The female turtles come up the beach and find some deep, soft sand to dig a nest in.

They dig down quite deep, a hole large enough for the turtle to be completely submerged in the sand. Then the turtle goes into an almost trance-like state, laying upwards of fifty eggs at one time, then carefully burying them and returning to the sea.

On Turtle Island, the eggs are collected and placed into artificial nests, incubation holes that are protected and monitored to ensure a larger percentage of the eggs hatch. In the wild, about 40% of the eggs would hatch, being affected by changes in temperature, predators, and other turtles accidentally digging them up when building their own nests. In the hatchery, about 80% of the eggs manage to hatch.

It takes about two months for the eggs to hatch, at which time the baby turtles make their way to the surface and, in the wild, to the ocean. At the hatchery, they are collected and then released into the water to further increase their chances of survival.

It was absolutely amazing to see the egg laying, transplanting and finally, the release of the hatchlings. We were not allowed to use camera flashes and there are virtually no lights allowed during the night, but it was an extremely clear night (I have never seen so many stars, not even on a clear prairie night) and we didn't have too much trouble witnessing the events. Everyone was nearly silent when the hatchlings were released- it was such an incredible scene, these little baby turtles entering the ocean for the first time by the light of the moon.

Until next time,


  • At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Auntie Bonnie said…

    Hi Heather,
    Great to see that you're enjoying your time there. Seeing the life cycle of the turtles is SO COOL! I'm so envious. Turtles here are few and far between but they do nest here. Have never seen them do it though. Glad that they are helping the turtles and not eating them! Love, Auntie Bonnie


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