On The Road: A close encounter in Borneo in our very own 'year of the turtle'

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The Independent Online

I've come to rest on the rocky reef slope, the terrain a mish-mash of coral rubble and stones, sand and seaweed. I've stopped, and settled – usually it's a travesty to sit on the reef but there is no coral to damage. Instead, I have taken a space beside a truly enormous green turtle.

He eyeballs me, raises his chin and wiggles his neck. He lifts a little on his legs and I assume he will take off, that I have disturbed him, but instead he comes a little closer, turning his head towards my dive buddy husband who approaches slowly from behind. Ah! The turtle can see his reflection in the Perspex dome port that houses Shaun's camera.

It's another incident to notch up in what we started calling the Year of the Turtle. We'd been on the road, checking Asia's best dive sites and revelling in the glory of this incredible marine realm. But for all the diversity, no matter where we went – from small and little-known islands to major tourist destinations – we saw turtles. Two types are commonly seen in these waters, the hawksbill and the green, and both are on the IUCN Red List of critically endangered species. Yet we saw more than we ever thought remained in the sea. No doubt, this is due to the growing numbers of localised conservation projects.

On Bali and Lombok, turtle nests are no longer raided for their eggs as consumables. Instead, after the female has left, they are lifted and taken to small sanctuaries and reburied in sandy nests. They hatch and are cared for in marine tanks, then when they are big enough to fend for themselves, they are repatriated to the beach. They instinctively run towards the sea but with a head start against the harsh ways of the big blue.

Conservation works. In Borneo, the green turtles were so numerous that they would follow us around on the dives. Across in the remote waters of the Philippines marine parks, we encountered many hawksbills. Perhaps they were on their way back to the same sandy beaches where they were nurtured.

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