There is nothing compare to the warm and relaxing sensation of sitting by the beach and watching the sun slowly sets on the horizon. And there’s no sunset quite like the one in Borneo.
2014 was the year I explored my own backyard, Sarawak, and I was surprised to find treasure trove of cultural gems and adventures. One of these adventure brought me to Talang-talang Island, one of a few places in Sarawak where you can see turtles lay eggs.
After dinner, there was nothing to do but wait for nightfall and for turtles to come on land, so the group of us lazed on our beach chair. I was watching the night sky littered with stars; the lack of artificial lighting made these stars seemed to shine so much brighter.
As the night got on the conversations drizzled out, and the cold drew me to dreamland.
Somebody shook me and I woke up.
“A turtle has come ashore.” The park ranger said as we rubbed sleep from our eyes.
We quickly followed the ranger as we trudged through the beach, the size of half a football field. Before we reached the turtle, the ranger stopped and asked us to listen. I heard what sounded like soft rain on the sand.
We moved closer and I could see the silhouette of a turtle, the size of a big elongated wok, digging in the sand. It must be a laborious work because after half a minute of digging, she stopped to rest for a minute, then continued for half a minute.
We gave the mother turtle her privacy and stood at a respectable distance. The ranger told us that it could take a while. Mother turtles are very picky with the patch of sand where they lay their eggs, if it’s too damp or too hard, they would abandon it, even if they have dug half a hole, and move on to a new site.
Finally the digging stopped completely. The ranger motioned for us to move closer to the turtle. With a soft light he shone at the back and I could see small white eggs dropping into the hole. It was an amazing experience to see the miracle of birth.
While we were watching, another turtle came ashore because we heard her digging in the sand not too far away.
When the first mother turtle had finished laying her eggs, she covered her eggs in sand and began her laborious crawl back to the sea. As she moved away, I couldn’t help but think that she was abandoning her children. Would these baby turtles ever see their mother again? The sea is so big, how would they find her, and recognize her?
We helped the ranger to dig up the eggs, and counted 81 of them and put them in a bucket. We then carried them to the nursery/hatchery. There the ranger dug a hole with a depth of an arm’s length and buried the eggs in it.
We helped the ranger to transfer these baby turtles from their nursery plot into buckets. They were rubbery to touch and like hyperactive baby, kept moving their flappers. There are tiny sharp crawl on their flappers so we had to be careful handling them.
We carried 3 buckets with over 2000 baby turtles to the seashore. The ranger told us that only 1 in 1000 baby turtles would survive to adulthood. That meant, of the 2000 baby turtles we were carrying, only 2 of them would reached adulthood, that was a very grim statistic. The odds are against these little ones and I felt really sad for them.
In a darkness witnessed by millions of stars we emptied the buckets one by one. When it came to my turn, I tilt my bucket gently towards the direction of the sea. And the baby turtles crawled, like moth to light, towards the water. It’s as if the sea is programmed into their genes, maybe it is. Soon, the dark water swallowed them. Thereby began their adventures. I hoped many of them would survived the night.
There were some that were crawling in different directions; away from the sea, towards the ranger’s quarters, attracted by the light. We tried to help them by redirecting them towards the sea, but a few stubborn ones kept turning away. They crawled very quickly and soon disappeared into the darkness.
When there was not a single baby turtle left on the beach, we decided to call it a night. The ranger bade us good night, as he still had to continue his work, apparently more mother turtles had come ashore. We went to bed and fell asleep quickly after a night of excitement.
The next day, we woke up as the Sun rose from the horizon. The event last night felt like a dream, and I wondered if we truly saw mother turtle laying eggs and released baby turtles into the sea. The experience was so surreal.
After breakfast as we were packing our bags to leave, someone found a baby turtle right under the stairs of the ranger’s quarter. It was really lucky not to be eaten by crabs or other animals that prowl the island looking for food.
Every one crowded around the little baby turtle. We could finally see it in detail in the daylight. And I was glad that the night before wasn’t a dream.
We decided to name it “Lucky”, because it was lucky to survive the night and we hoped he would be the lucky one to reach adulthood.
I took lucky in my hand as we walked to the seashore. I touched its little head and said a blessing, then I put it on the wet sand and saw it crawled quickly to the sea.
I saw its head pop up after the first wave hit it, then it disappeared under the second wave. I couldn’t help but felt sad and worried for that little fella. Lucky was all alone out there in the big sea. If it had been with the huge exodus, at least there was safety in number. I would never know what happen to Lucky.
The ranger told us that most turtle would return to the place where they were born when they had to lay eggs. So maybe if I return to Talang-talang Island in 50 years I would meet Lucky again. That is if I live to 90 years.