Monday, 1 September 2014

18th August - Day 10; Seligan Island, Sabah Borneo

An unholy departure time this morning meant we were up at 4:15.  The rain from yesterday had finally died out, but everywhere looked very wet.  It was dark as we left the hotel at 5:15 for the airport.

Our flight was very short, scheduled as 40 minutes to Sandakan, it was actually 25 minutes in the air. The route though took us to the west of Gunung Kinabalu, but before hand we circled to gain height giving us a great view of the Shangri La resort we had just left.

It was also possible to get some good views of the fishing villages, amazing how many houses are crammed in here, and all on stilts.

The cloud from yesterday was gone and this morning we were able to get excellent views of the summit of Mount Kinabalu.  I hope those in the hotel leaving this morning to climb the mountain are treated to the weather we looked down on, but for some reason I don't think that will be the case.

After the mountain, and the foothills the landscape became very flat with the now common meandering rivers and fields and fields of palm oil plantations, with all of them ending just before the coast or river.  Most of the rivers were brown with silt, except for this one where you can see the colour change.  There must be some significant run off that flows mud and silt into the river at the colour change point.

It was warm and sunny as we landed in Sandokan, and after collecting our bags and a stray umbrella we headed off into the city.  We stopped in the centre and were given an hour to ourselves, 

Sandokan overlooks a huge body of water, dotted with islands and old fishing vessels and boats.  The sea border with the Philippines is just 28 km away, and is visible across the water, and migrants from there are the latest to populate a town that includes the Chinese and the British.  Sandokan was nearly flattened in World War Two, now it is Sabah's second city and an economy thriving on Palm Oil.

We wandered around for a bit, and then decided for a coffee and breakfast in a famous fast food outlet.  At 9:30 we were off to pick up our other travellers and then to the jetty where we boarded the small boat that would take us to Seligan Island.

Our guides were at pains to emphasise the fact that the islands are very safe, apparently there has been the threat of attack from Filipino pirates that we were not aware of, and were at that time concerned about, but after the continual ear bashing we received it was difficult not to start to have some concerns.

The trip took one hour, and took us along the coast past the fishing villages on stilts, and through their rubbish that they just seem to cast away into the sea.  Bottles, plastic bags and other unmentionables were everywhere, what a shame they just see the sea as a rubbish tip.

When we arrived we made out way up the beach, following tracks of Green Sea Turtles that had been left in the sand, a short briefing and we were off to our chalet, basic but clean and functional.  We had a quick explore, and then it was lunch, after which we picked up a mat and towel each and set off for the beach.

There were a few birds on the island, the best of which was the collared Kingfisher that sat in the trees above the turtle hatchery.

There was an area cordoned off in which we could snorkel and swim.  The sea was very warm, and quite shallow, and I set off to explore.  I came back quickly to grab the underwater casing and camera.

Most of the fish I can't identify, but some I could.  There was an extremely feisty dark brown fish that would swim at you as if to attack, and then turn off at the last minute.

Plenty of Parrot fish, and rainbow coloured Wrasse.

A leopard looking fish that sat on a rock and was happy to let me approach.

And lots of small highly coloured fish that would dart in and out of the coral and rocks.

My favourite though had to be the Clown Fish, sitting in amongst their anemone they too would look to defend their property from both me and any other fish that came close.  I took loads of still pictures, and also some video.  There were two families, one with a smaller youngster.

Some of the fish were surprisingly large so close in, and other like the Sergeant Majors, yellow and black striped fish went around in large shoals.

As interesting as the fish were the corals, some would have small colourful polyps that would fan out, and dart back in when I got close.

There were lots of different shapes and types of coral, including this Brain Coral so called because of the pattern and the shape.

The clams were amazing colours too, electric blues and purples.

I also came across a giant clam that closed as I swam over it.

I finally came ashore and settled down to some sun bathing, but by now the sun was sinking, and the palm trees were throwing shadows across us.

We moved along the beach to a sunny spot, the water just below the beach was covered in Sea Cucumbers.

As we lay there we heard a call, and looked around to see a guard pointing to the sand ad saying baby turtle.  A hatchling had left a natural nest and was scurrying across the beach.

We were allowed to pick it up, and Helen did so, finding it a very strong little creature with only one thought in mind to reach the sea.  

Helen let it go and it scrambled into the water, and swam away quite strongly, coming up for air a little further in, lifting it's little head out to breathe.  One can only hope that little Green Turtle survives everything nature throws at it over the next 15 - 20 years, and that it comes back to this island to lay it's own eggs, a wonderful experience.

It had been a rain free afternoon, the first we have had, which was just what we ordered.  The sea was calm, and away off on the horizon were wonderful cloud shapes.

The sun was sinking and it was now time to leave the beach, we went to our chalet and showered and then down to the cafeteria, where we wandered about the beach photographing some of the birds.  There were Yellow-vented Bulbuls, but the attraction was this Olive-backed Sunbird

As the sun dropped in the sky the resident Tree Sparrows started to gather in the trees preparing for the night.

Back at the cafeteria I finally managed to photograph the pigeon that had been calling all afternoon, an Emerald dove.

We walked out to the beach to be briefed on the plans for the evening's turtle watch.  It was an amazing sunset from the beach producing as well some lovely reflections in the sea.

After dinner we all had to sit around and wait for the call to go and see the turtle laying her eggs.  This finally came at 9:30 and we all crowded around as the turtle laid her eggs and the rangers collected them.

The turtle itself lay still in the scrape until she had finished laying.

You can see the wet patch behind the turtles eye which is actually a salt gland, but looks as if the turtle is crying.

What happened next would be enough to make me cry, the ranger allowed everyone time to have a selfie with the turtle, at which Helen and I walked away.  The whole thing had been a bit of a show up to then, but we had gone with it, the selfie bit though was a step too far, and we turned away into a couple of guards with machine guns!

The rangers took the eggs and re-buried them in the hatchery, carefully placing them at the right depth, and covering them with mesh to keep out the predators such as monitor lizards that would dig them up.  Then we went back to the beach to release some hatchlings, another show, but it was a joy to see the little turtles heading of into the dark sea, it was even nicer to think we had the luck to see the real thing in the afternoon.

It was though definitely a better experience than what we encountered in Sri Lanka earlier in the year.

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