Satang National Park is a string of four islands on the south-western coast of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. A very much untouched wilderness, the islands are famous for their powdery beaches and thick virgin forests. The area is also a major playground for sea turtles and the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. Covering 19.4 sq kms, Satang National Park was established to conserve the marine turtle population in Sarawak. The four islands, collectively referred to as Turtle Islands, contribute to over 95 per cent of the recorded turtle landings in the State.
During your 30-minute boat ride to Pulau Satang Besar, don’t forget to occasionally peep over the side of the boat and marvel at the beautiful colonies of hard and soft corals. These shallow reefs provide shelter and resting grounds for the marine turtles and are important fish breeding areas too. According to Sarawak Forestry Department’s conservation contractor Nulit Aban, tourists are encouraged to visit Pulau Satang Besar during the peak turtle-nesting season from April to September, The Straits Times reported.
The predominant species is the Green Turtle or “penyu agar” (Chelonia mydas), contributing more than 80 per cent of all recorded landings while the Hawksbill Turtle or “penyu sisik” (Eretmochelys imbricata) comes in a distant second at less than 20 per cent. The rarer Olive Ridley Turtle or “penyu lipas” (Lepidochelys olivacea) only comes to nest in the rainy season from November to December. “Of the four Turtle Islands, Pulau Talang Besar has consistently recorded the highest daily turtle landings; sometimes more than 30 come in to nest in a single night. Based on our experience, most turtles come to nest at night during the high tide. We have to ensure there is a complete darkness so as not to disturb these creatures,” says Nulit.
As the islands are protected areas, visitors are only allowed to cruise around them. However, they can visit designated spots on Pulau Satang Besar. Apart from watching turtles, tourists to the Damai Santubong area can also spot Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris), which are considered very elusive and watch flocks of playful terns nesting noisily on a rocky outcrop that locals refer to as Bird Island. Sarawak Tourism Board has embarked on a programme to promote marine mammal tourism. Incidentally, Sarawak is the first and only destination in the country to offer commercial dolphin watching tours which began in earnest in 1998.
Despite its highly endangered status, the Irrawaddy dolphin seems to thrive here. It inhabits mainly estuaries and coastal areas, and researchers have determined that its behavior and lifestyle are distinctly different from those of the pelagic (open ocean) dolphins.