Marine Life at Turtle Islands Park

Averaging one metre long, the Green Turtle can weigh up to 230 kg. Dark streaks mark its oval greenish carapace. Mainly herbivorous, it feeds on sea weed and sea grass. A nutritionally limiting diet results in slow growth. Sexual maturity is attained only at 15 -30 years of age.Nests comprise a deep body pit containing eggs, with much sand thrown back. Green turtle tracks are one metre wide, with symmetrical lines made by front flippers. Greens nest throughout the year, peaking between August and October. Newly emerged omnivorous hatchlings are about 50 mm in length with a black carapace (shell) and white plastron(belly shell).Greens are highly migratory, ranking among Nature’s master navigators. Despite a pea sized brain, the turtle can navigate according to coordinates similar to latitudes and longitudes. It senses the earth’s magnetism directly using magnetic crystals in its head. As the sea floor cools from lava, magnetic patterns as distinctive as fingerprints form on the bedrock . Using them, the turtle can locate a single position even when the bottom is invisible.

The excellent diversity of life on Sabahan reefs extends to echinoderms. There are five major divisions - sea stars, brittle stars, featherstars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. All echinoderms display the pentagonal theme although this may not beobvious on the outer surface.

There are seven phyla of marine worms comprising over 20,000 different species. They live in a wide range of habitats. Some burrow into living or dead corals, some hide beneath crevices, while others dwell more permanently on other reef inverterbrates such as sea cucumbers and sea stars.

Sponges have existed since Precambrian times, some 600 -700 milion years ago.They are efficient filter feeders feeding on the smallest microscopic organisms.Bacteria is their major source of nutrition. They have unusual biochemical propertiesand are frequently toxic to other organisms. They feature in medical research, notably in treatment of cancer and other diseases.

BANDED SEA KRAIT - Laticauda colubrinaThere are about 50 species of sea snakes all belonging to the family Elapidae. The Banded Sea Krait is commonly encountered in Sabah Parks. Although highly venomous, sea snakes do not normally pose a threat to divers. On land, most are relatively helpless and unable to strike. But they should be treated with respect and handled only by experts. The Banded Sea Krait's venom is highly potent. It is a snake at least four times more poisonous than the cobra. A distinct black and white banded pattern advertises this fact. Fish seem to recognise the warning and maintain a safe distance. Like some of its terrestrial relatives, the sea snake can immobolise prey within seconds. It is an air breather and must surface periodically for air.An active hunter during the day, the Banded Sea Krait feeds largely on small gobies that live in burrows. Like the sea turtle, it comes up on land to lay its eggs. This phenomenon occurs on Kalampunian Damit, a tiny island in Sabah's Pulau Tiga Park. The snakes are usually seen coiled in a tangled mass under boulders or among tree roots.

Soft corals lack a hard limestone skeleton. Like many reef inhabitants, they secrete chemicals that prevent or inhibit encrusting growths. Cancer research scientists are intrigued by this. There is amazing diversity of soft coral. Many of the soft fleshy forms belong to the family Alycyoniidae. Another major group, gorgonians or "sea fans " comprise several families and contain the largest growth forms. Soft corals seldom have encrusting growths as they secrete chemicals to prevent or inhibit these.

Sabah's marine parks are home to a large and diverseassemblage of reef dwelling molluscs. A wide variety of shells, colourful sea slugs and cephalapods can be seen.

Hard corals build spectacular reefs. Individual coral polyps secrete calcium carbonate that eventually becomes the matrix of the reef. Living coral forms only a thin veneer, flourishing on layers of previous generations, over the skeletal remains of ancestors. Hard corals form the nucleus of life on the reef - providing habitats, food, protection, and shelter. Over 200 coral species are found in the waters of Sabah Parks. The vast majority are colonial forms although there are solitary species like mushroom coral (Fungiidae). Hard corals thrive in clear, warm, shallow seas, requiring bright sunlight for optimal growth.

Fishes are the most apparent of the reef's inhabitants. The array of fishes encountered in Sabah's reefs is vast and overwhelming. Visitors can expect an amazing cavalcade of colour, shape, and size. The coral reef is home to numerous fish species - from gentle giants to colorful clowns, from timid sand dwellers to vicious predators. The natural life cycle of every marine creature revolves around survival and procreation. Every species is part of the food chain though each takes a slightly different path or uses a unique adaptation to survive.

Of all known invertebrates in the sea, crustaceans are most abundant as a group. They show incredible diversity in size, shape, colour and lifestyle. Due to their tiny size and cryptic habits, they are not always evident. Crustaceans can provide many hours of fascination for the patient observer. Reefs in Sabah host a large variety of crustaceans, including many interesting and unusual species.