Talang-satang National Park
Published on August 6, 2014 | by sarawakforestry.com
Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang was established with the primary aim of conserving Sarawak’s marine turtle population. The park comprises the coastline and sea surrounding four islands of the southwest coast of Sarawak; Pulau Talang Besar (Greater Talang Island) and Pulau Talang Kecil (Lesser Talang Island) off Sematan, and Pulau Satang Besar (Greater Satang Island) and Pulau Satang Kecil (Lesser Satang Island) off Santubong, near Kuching.
These four “Turtle Islands” are responsible for 95% of all the turtle landings in Sarawak. The park also includes the Pulau Tukong Ara-Banun Wildlife Sanctuary, two tiny islets which are important nesting sites for colonies of Bridled Terns and Black-Naped Terns.
Talang-Satang National Park covers a total area of approximately 19,400 hectares (19.4 sq km), and comprises all lands below the high tide marks on the respective islands, and the surrounding seas for a radius of 4.8 km from the highest point on each island. Beautiful shallow reef areas surround all the four islands. The reefs generally consist of several species of hard coral and colonies of soft coral. They provide shelter and resting grounds for sea turtles, and are also important fish breeding areas.
MARINE TURTLE CONSERVATION
Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-lived creatures, with many reaching a lifespan of more than 100 years. Graceful swimmers that spend most of their time underwater, they have survived almost unchanged since the Triassic period, some 200 million years ago.
However the breeding habits that have served them so well for so long are now contributing to their extinction. Marine turtles mature slowly, only starting to breed between 30 and 50 years of age, and once they commence breeding, females usually only produce eggs once every four or five years.
They do not lay their eggs on just any beach, but migrate back to their beach of birth, sometimes across distances of more than 3,000 km. How they find their way back to that particular beach is one of nature’s great unsolved mysteries. It is also a major factor in the decline of turtle populations, because as beaches around the world are developed for various purposes, the turtles are unable to move to undisturbed nesting sites.
Other factors that contribute to turtle mortality are deliberate poaching of turtles for meat and tortoiseshell; uncontrolled collecting of turtle eggs; entrapment in fishing nets; destruction of feeding grounds such coral reefs or sea grass beds; and ingestion of plastic bags which some species mistake for jellyfish, part of their natural diet.
Even under perfect conditions, survival rates are very low. A female turtle may lay as many as 10,000 eggs in her lifetime, but because of nesting losses due to natural land predators and predation by fish once they reach the sea, as few as 10 hatchlings will survive to reach maturity.
Five marine turtle species are known to nest in Sarawak, with the peak turtle nesting season running from April until September. By far the most important is the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), which represents 90% of all turtle landings, mainly on the islands of Talang-Satang national park.
The other species that occasionally lands on the islands is the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), whilst the Olive Ridley, Leatherback and Loggerhead Turtles nest primarily on the mainland. All of these species are critically endangered worldwide.
Because of the threat to marine turtles, a conservation programme is under way on Talang-Satang’s three larger islands, and also in Tanjung Datu and Similajau National Parks on the Sarawak mainland. Eggs are either removed from nests and placed in guarded hatcheries, or left in place and guarded round the clock by Sarawak Forestry wardens.
After 40 to 60 days incubation, young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators. In addition, some hatchlings are tagged with miniaturized radio tracking devices to learn more about their ecology and life cycle. The programme appears to be working well, as the number of landings has stabilized at between 1,500 to 3,000 per year over a 10 year period, after sinking to an all time low of under 1,000 in the early 1980s.
Another reason for increased turtle landings is the successful reef-ball programme. Over 2000 concrete reef-balls have been placed in the waters of the National Park. These artificial reef balls not only provide a ready made habitat for coral species; they also provide inter-nesting shelters for turtles; The reef balls’ rough and heavy concrete construction will rip fishing nets to shreds, and therefore prevents encroachment by trawlers.
It is difficult to determine exactly what difference they make to actual numbers of landings, but since the introduction of reef-balls the number of dead turtles found in Talang-Satang has decreased dramatically.
The conservation programme has been carefully planned to involve local communities. The traditional rights and practices of the local landowners, villagers, and fishermen are recognized, and Sarawak Forestry works in close co-operation with them to ensure sustainable usage of the resources they are entitled to.
VISITING THE ISLANDS
Because of the extreme sensitivity of the habitats, visitors are only allowed within 2.8km of Pulau Talang Besar, Pulau Talang Kecil, Pulau Satang Kecil or the Ara-Banun Wildlife Sanctuary by special arrangement with Sarawak Forestry. Such permission is normally only granted to bona fide researchers, students, conservation organizations, and people participating in the Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme (see below).
Pulau Satang Besar, the largest of the islands, is open to visitors, but conservation takes priority over tourism. Parts of both the island and the surrounding sea are off-limits to visitors, who must remain within the designated area and be accompanied by Sarawak Forestry wardens at all times. Despite these very necessary restrictions, Pulau Satang Besar is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit.
The turtle hatchery is the main land-based attraction, where visitors can learn all about the conservation programme.
The island itself is steep and thickly forested, and unsuitable for trekking. However a white sand beach stretches across the entire southern side of the island. The surrounding waters are a deep emerald green with coral reefs just a short distance from the shore, which offer good snorkelling possibilities.
The sea-bed slopes gradually to a depth of about 12 metres, with some attractive hard coral formations, soft corals, gorgonian sea fans and feather stars, surrounded by their attendant small fish. The colours can be fantastic, but visibility is frequently limited to between 3 and 10 metres, so only serious snorkellers and divers will see the corals at their best. Large pelagic fish are rare, but Green Turtles can occasionally be seen gliding gracefully through the water.
Diving and Snorkelling
Scuba diving and snorkelling are confined within the designated zone only. No water recreation activities are allowed outside the zone in the interests of conservation. Scuba divers must be accompanied by an approved dive guide.
Diving tanks, BCDs and regulators can be rented from the Sarawak Forestry operations office on the island, but must be booked in advance. Please contact the National Parks Booking Office in Kuching for further details.
The Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme
The Sarawak Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme (SSTVP) is a unique eco-tourism initiative run by Sarawak Forestry. Open from May to September, this conservation-driven programme allows volunteers to actively participate in Sarawak’s turtle conservation efforts by spending 4 days at the Turtle Conservation Station on Pulau Talang-Talang Besar.
Upon arrival on the island, volunteers are briefed on the conservation programme before being allocated tasks or areas of responsibility. Duties include beach patrols to locate turtle arrivals, monitoring turtle nesting activity, tagging and measuring turtles, transferring eggs to the hatchery, releasing hatchlings, data recording and other on-site conservation activities.
The SSTVP offers participants the chance to learn more about turtle conservation and experience unforgettable encounters with marine turtles. Furthermore, participants gain the satisfaction of knowing that they are actually contributing to a valuable conservation project.
Please note that the Sarawak Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme is not suitable for everyone. Accommodation facilities are basic and everyone is expected to help with cooking and cleaning-up. Volunteers join a team of dedicated conservation experts whose mission is to monitor every turtle landing on the island and thus help to preserve Sarawak’s natural heritage.
Volunteers can expect a rewarding ‘Back to Nature’ experience but should bear in mind that the programme is not a beach holiday.
For further details please contact Sarawak Forestry
Talang-Satang’s coral reefs are home to a number of venomous creatures, including Sea Snakes, Coral Snakes, Stonefish and Cone Shells. Marine Snakes are usually harmless if undisturbed, and if seen should be left well alone. Stonefish may conceal themselves in mud or sand surrounding the coral, especially at low tide, so do not walk or swim barefoot around coral reefs. Cone Shells are highly venomous and should not be handled under any circumstances.
Entry Fees & Permits
There is a nominal entry fee for all National Parks in Sarawak. A permit is required for professional filming, which should be arranged in advance with the National Parks Booking Office. Check with the National Parks Booking Office in Kuching or the Sarawak Forestry website for the latest fee structure. Visitors to Talang-Satang must obtain a permit and pay any fees at the National Parks Booking Office in Kuching.
Pulau Satang Besar is a 30-minute boat ride from Damai Beach, Sarawak Boat Club Jetty or Telaga Air Jetty. There is no regular boat service and visitors should travel in an organised tour. A number of Kuching-based tour operators run day trips to the island, often in conjunction with other marine-based activities such as dolphin watching or mangrove cruises. All other areas of Talang-Satang National Park are off limits to visitors except by special arrangement, in which case transport will be organised by Sarawak Forestry.
There is a small, locally operated visitor lodge on Pulau Satang Besar, with limited amenities and accommodation. There is no visitor accommodation elsewhere in Talang-Satang National Park, and overnight stays are not permitted due to the need for conservation of turtle nesting areas. There are no canteens or other visitor facilities, so visitors should bring food and drink with them.