The Turtle Island Park lies 40 km north of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea off Sabah’s east coast. It encompasses 1,740 hectares which include the three islands of Pulau Selingan, Pulau Bakungan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan, together with the surrounding sea and coral reefs. The islands are built over shallow rocky shoals from coral shingle from the surrounding reef. They are covered with a variety of plant life which includes mangrove, lantana, the yellow-flowered sophora and the furry silver-leaved Tournefortia. The main attractions here, however, are the turtles that come to nest on the shores. Pulau Selingan is the main nesting area for the green turtles Chelonia mydas, while the hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys) seem particularly attracted to the shores of Pulau Gulisan. Both species lay their eggs throughout the year, although the best months are between July and October. The marine park is now popularly known as Turtle Island Park, and on Selingan several chalets are available for a limited number of overnight visitors, provide comfortable accommodation. The other islands have no overnight facilities and visitors are not allowed to be there at night, as much as on Selingan no one is permitted close to the shore from nightfall to sunrise. This is to allow the shy turtles to crawl ashore undisturbed and to leave their breeding cycle as intact as possible.
Turtle eggs have been collected from the islands since before the colonial days. All the islands were populated, albeit sparsely, until the late 1960s. Turtle eggs could be collected by tender, but conservation awareness and efforts to protect marine turtles around the coast of Sabah was realised as early as 1927 (when their numbers were already dwindling!), and thus the first measures were introduced to protect the Hawksbill turtles, once hunted for their shells and meat. It was on Selingan that the first turtle hatchery in Malaysia was undertaken, in 1966. In 1971, the Sabah Government acquired the three islands from private ownership, and in 1972, the islands were constituted as Game and Bird Sanctuaries. Finally, in late 1977 the Government converted the three islands into the present 1,740 hectare marine park embracing not only the islands but also the surrounding coral reefs and the seas between the islands, and the Turtle Island Park came into being. The turtle conservation programme has proven to be very successful and ongoing efforts as well as detailed statistics show that the decline in turtles has been minimised.
The best time to visit is between August to October as the islands receive the brunt of the north-eastern monsoon gales between October and February. The best time to visit Turtle Island Park is during the driest month and the calmest seas between March and September.