Finding Sea Turtles at Satang Island Kuching …(And a Strange Episode)

There is something so mystical about sea creatures that after my adventurous escapade of finding nemo in Gili islands of Indonesia, I set off to find sea turtles in Satang Island of Malaysia.

So, was I successful? Read on to find out…

If nothing else, the 10 girls on an exotic private island and the strange occurance angle of this story would definitely interest you.

All You need to Know about Satang Island in Kuching

Satang island

The lovely Satang island (Aka Turtle island)

Where is this Mysterious Satang Island?

Satang Island, locally known as Pulau Satang Besar (or simply Turtle island) lies in one of my favorite parts of Malaysia – Sarawak.

Satang is just 1.5 hours away from the cat city of Kuching, where I spent 2 weeks volunteering at the MonkeeBar (to raise funds for Orangutan Project). The island is known for turtle conservation and popular for day snorkeling / boat trips.

Turtles from the South China Sea would often come to the island to lay eggs which would further be protected in a hatchery by the local rangers.

This was the perfect opportunity to travel and learn more about conservation efforts in Borneo, whilst volunteering and doing my bit for animal welfare. One of my responsible travel goals for 2017 was finally accomplished.

Why Did I Zero in on a Visit to Satang?

During some random conversations with expats and locals hanging out at the MonkeeBar, I found out about this lovely island. The prospect of actually seeing a turtle lay eggs – in the wild, was something a nature lover and wildlife enthusiast such as myself, simply could not refuse. After my amazing trip to Bako national park, I knew I had to experience more of Borneo’s nature and wildlife.

Pulau Satang Besar

Another volunteer and I decided this was something we had to do and reluctantly shelled out $100 to book out trip to Satang Island (Might I add, this money was VERY well spent).

Pre-Trip Ritual – A MUST do!

Okay this might sound totally insane and I don’t know how much weightage it actually holds, but I would say if you want to see the turtles.. DO this…

As a ritual for good luck, we had to drink half shots of local rice wine (and throw the other half as an “offering” of sorts to the gods).

This rice wine, made locally, is incredibly strong – but hey, our guide was very clear about Bornean rituals. She simply asked us, “Do you want to see turtles“? Hey, we just spent $100 in hopes we would so we frantically nodded our heads and took the shots as instructed – We would dare not risk annoying the rice wine god!

Our Trip to Satang Islands

Yes, its actually two islands – Besar and Kecil but we were headed to Pulau Satang Besar in search of some beach time, fun, great food and the elusive sea turtles. This is in the protected marine area of Talang Satang national park.

We were accompanied by 8 other girls who were studying medicine in Kuching. Everyone was great and we hit it off from the start.

 Satang island borneo

Our lovely group of gals headed to Satang island

We got onto our speed boats crossing mangrove forests and scenic views. A quick stop at the bird island offered some photo opportunities of water birds. Well, you can’t really “land” at the bird island but circle around in your boat.

bird island

Watching our feathery friends from a safe (poop free) distance.

TipDon’t get too close unless you want some bird poop all over you!

Within 40 mins, we were at the island….

First look at Satang Island

As soon as we saw the white sand and the cute beach cottages – we gasped with glee. Excitedly, we jumped off our boats to explore this private island.

Before we arrived, we didn’t even know that we would be the ONLY people on the island (Reminded me of Shutter island, Lost and everything else with people stranded on private islands in the middle of nowhere).

This made it 100 times more interesting and exciting.

Imagine – Just us 10 girls having this entire stunning island all to ourselves. How epic is that? 

Satang Island accommodation

Satang Island – First look

We were told to get our swim suits on for a quick snorkeling trip and then we will be rewarded with local home cooked lunch. That was motivation enough to get dressed in a jiffy.

Satang Island snorkeling trip

Our hour long snorkeling trip was not fruitful. Unfortunately, it was raining the night before and visibility was poor. After a few dips, I gave up.

On a good day though, we heard, one can spot – angelfish, pufferfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, snapper, lobster, corals.. and of course turtles.

We were told sea turtles don’t really enjoy this weather or come out to lay eggs. So our chances to see them later at night were quite poor.

Disappointed , we returned.

Our Satang island accommodation in those lovey beach cottages was very basic. These are forest lodges with just a fan and bed – nothing fancy. I would say get your own mosquito repellent or net to keep bugs at bay but be prepared to rough it out a bit.

satang island cottages

Take a look inside our basic beach cottages – Don’t expect anything fancy, but this does the trick

cottage beach view

View from our cottage 🙂

The private island feel was totally keeping our spirits high and the delicious food was no match for a bad snorkeling trip. We had an hour or so to spare before the sunset and we decided to grab some beers.

TipBuy your own booze before you get to the island, the island is ‘almost’ isolated so don’t expect liquor shops :)).

Spectacular Sunset at Satang Island

sunset satang kuching

Bright orange hues as they melt and fade into the horizon

We were told to expect one of the best sunsets in Borneo. As an avid sky porn freak, I made my way to the designated ‘sunset point’ 30 mins prior to the actual sunset hour.

With my Canon, GoPro and beer, I had to make plenty of stops during this 5 min walk to juggle everything whilst taking some evening shots of the beach. Watching the crabs scurry into their sand holes made for an interesting sight.

satang sunset borneo

Our perfect “chilling spot”

We found the perfect long-ish rock which could fit all of us as we chatted, gulped down our beer, gawked at the sun setting over the waves and watched home bound crabs in a frenzy.

sunset satang island

Our perfect rock to sit, chat, gulp beer and watch the epic sunset

perfect sunset

And.. the perfect sunset

moon borneo

Which slowly turned into the perfect moonrise

The Strange Episode….

This was the perfect chill time for us.. until… we heard a loud screeching sound vibrating through the dense rain-forests.

Oh yes, did I mention the island was covered in dense jungles? I guess not. So yeah, all those horror scenes from Shutter island, Lost and heck even King Kong were flashing through my mind.

amazing sunsets of malaysia

Watching the changing colors of the sky as the screech reverberating through the jungles

No way, this wasn’t happening!

The loud screeching noise would not stop.

We looked around in hopes to see the ranger or our guide but we were all alone. I was expecting a big dinosaur or a mysterious huge creature pop out of the trees next to me (as it so happened, I was sitting closes to the forest – Stupid girl, I gave myself a mental kick!)

secluded private island

No one for miles around… and the night was setting

After around five ear shattering minutes (seemed like hours), the sound stopped. Phew! We were all relieved but in my head that mysterious sound still remains. I kept thinking what it could be.

As a kid, I have always been in the wild so this perplexed me. Was it a screech.. a call? Was it an animal, bird or insect? Gosh, I was totally blank. I could perhaps think of it as the call of Pterosaurs, the prehistoric flying dinosaurs, and that knowledge of mine was actually from movies too – Hello! Jurassic Park.

So if Komodo dragons can exist on this remote island of Labuan Bajo in Indonesia.. isn’t there a possibility of other prehistoric creatures living in one of these other semi-isolated islands? Well, who knows! Some food for thought for all of us, I guess… as till date this mystery remains unsolved.

I did ask our guide who confirmed she has been to the island multiple times but NEVER heard anything like it before.

We had a few more beers followed by the amazing finger licking home cooked dinner.

Since sea turtles come out at night.. Our next agenda was to find sea turtles laying eggs and witness turtle conservation at Satang Island, first hand.

And Finally.. Time to Find some Sea Turtles

After all the fun and drama from the day, I simply could not sleep. We were told sometimes sea turtles don’t come to the beach at all – or even if they do, they might decide against laying eggs. So, our chances looked very slim looking at the upcoming stormy weather. Even then, as the night set, our anticipation to see the turtles grew.

Around midnight, I decided staying up was futile and I should retire to bed. Almost everyone followed suit. Few hung around playing cards or finishing the last few beers.

Needless to say, I could not sleep.

Thinking about that mysterious screech and looking for bugs in my room, I managed to kill some time. After around two hours, there was a loud knock on the door.

Just when I was getting drowsy – What now?

“Jo, come out – turtle!” My guide called to me.

I was like – WHAT!!? This better not be a joke!

This was super exciting – Have you ever seen a turtle on the beach at 3 Am? I bet not! 

I woke up hurriedly and stepped out. It was pitch dark outside our cottage (due to the dense trees) but the moon was shining brightly at the beach. We were all advised not to shine our torches as that can startle the turtle.

Tripping and trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness, I finally made my way to the beach. The other volunteer and rangers were already ‘at the scene’.

I could not hold myself for a minute and asked “Where’s the turtle?”.

They pointed to the huge rock like thing right next to me “There!!!”

What? This green sea turtle was HUGE. I have never seen such a big turtle in my life. A quick google search showed that a Green sea turtle can grow upto 5 feet and weigh 160 kgs. Wow! I was impressed.

sea turtle satang

Cute, big green sea turtle – An amazing sight

Turtle Laying Eggs

“To lay or not to lay”, was the question now.

We were told by the rangers that sometimes turtles do come to the beach to lay eggs but if they are startled, or if starts raining or well, if they just don’t feel like it, they might just return to the sea.

The sign to look out for was their hind legs moving to dig a pit. That’s when it is 100% sure that the turtle is ready to lay eggs.

Okay then we watched the big green sea turtle in the amazing moonlight, crossing our fingers and waiting in anticipation for her to start digging.

Finally after around 20 mins, I saw her hind legs moving underneath the huge shell. I asked the ranger to double check. He turned on his special night torch to check and indeed – the turtle had started digging. Yippeee, this was the absolute high point of the trip for me. 

I came to watch a turtle lay eggs, with no hopes of it happening honestly. Maybe it was the ritualistic rice wine shots but damn, this was happening!

The excitement started fading a bit as the turtle kept digging – yes for over 1.5 hours! Wow these turtles sure can dig. It was pretty epic watching her go – they are hard workers. Digging away into wee hours of the morning just to ensure they have a safe place to lay the eggs, away from the prying predators.

Finally, when she was fully satisfied, she started laying eggs. This was another long process – around 30 mins or so, and she laid 118 eggs – yes, we counted! Also, I manged to take a video to share this once in a lifetime experience with ya all.

Video of Green Sea Turtle Laying Eggs

 

Posted by Jyotsna Ramani on Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Once done, she starting putting sand back into the pit to cover it up – there goes another hour. She was slow but sure of what needs to be done. Only when she was convinced her 118 eggs were safe, she returned to the ocean.

mama turtle

Our sweet mama turtle returning to the South china sea

As I followed her to ensure her safe return to the big blue sea, I saw something totally amazing – the waves hitting the shore had neon blue stars in them. Yes, that’s right – I finally got to see the biolumnicent planktons again. This magical planktons light up with movement and swimming with them will give you a real Avataar feeling. Saw them for the first time in Koh Rong and had been looking for them in every beach destination I visited ever since – FINALLY saw them out of the blue at Satang Island. The ranger said its a common occurrence so if you are looking for bio-luminescence – that’s another top reason to visit this island.

Turtle Conservation and Hatchery

Okay so whats next I thought. It was a great end to the day and I was ready to retire to bed.

I was shocked to see the rangers digging up the hole and taking the eggs out. All I could think was poor turtle and what about all the hard work she did.

To put my concerns at bay, I was explained that this was done to protect the eggs. The rangers kept them safe in the hatchery where each man made pit was covered with deep fencing to safeguard from monitor lizards and other predators in the island.

A chance of a turtle egg surviving in wild is pretty slim. Out of those 118, perhaps a few would ever make it. However, in the hatchery they are well protected and most make it back to the ocean. Now this knowledge did make me feel better.

So, our wonderful trip came to an end as we all happily returned to our rooms, thinking about this amazing natural phenomenon we had just witnessed. 

Next morning, we had an amazing breakfast and some chill time at the beach before heading off to Kuching.

How to Reach Satang Island

You need to hire a cab till the Telaga jetty point and then a slow boat or motor boat upto the island. You will be crossing bird island (but you must tell the boat driver to take you closer, if you plan on taking pictures) on the way and it takes 30-45 mins to reach Satang.

Pulau Satang Besar boat

Our motorized boat which took us from jetty to island

How to Book an Overnight Stay at Satang?

We took an all inclusive Satang island package which included our transport from Kuching, all meals, snorkeling, entry fees, basic accommodation and a boat trip around the islands. The entire trip was booked through a local guide and costed us $100. However, this rate can vary depending on how big your group is, I would recommend paying a bit extra and just booking the entire island for two – could be a romantic, thrilling getaway with your better half.

Always Book local! If you would like to use our local guide, feel free to Call/WhatsApp this number for queries/bookings  +601136316579

My recommendation would be to talk to locals and ask around a bit before zeroing in on the perfect package and deals for Satang Island – they can be varied but remember, day trip just doesn’t cut it. An overnight stay is an absolute must.

So have you visited Satang Island or seen turtles in the wild or participated in any turtle conservation efforts? I would love to hear from you in comments below.

4 Comments

  1. Wow Incredible island!! I live in SW Florida and volunteer for a local aquarium and participate in their conservation efforts. It is my passion. I have watched Loggerheads nesting several times but the excitement does not change. It is always breath taking
    to see these amazing “girls” nest.
    Thanx for sharing your experience.
    Denise

    • Hi Denise, That sounds amazing what you did for the aquarium. I know this experience was something “life changing” I would say. Incredible creatures, aren’t they?

  2. Hi Jo,

    Last October me and my boyfriend were in Kuching and I found your blog while looking for a way to see turtles. I contacted the number above and met Letty to plan our trip. Those two days on the island were so special, our encounter with the motherturtle laying her eggs was beautiful. So thank you for sharing your story, because we couldn’t have wished for a better turtle trip!!

    Greetings from the Netherlands,
    Marjolein

    • OMG I am SO happy you loved turtle island with Letty as much as we did. Thanks for sharing Marjolein – You just made my day 🙂 xoxo

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