I recently had the chance to visit Satang Besar on a Sarawak Museum Department – funded Zoology trip.
Satang Besar is 1 of 4 “Turtle Islands” in Kuching, the others being the adjacent Satang Kecil and the two Talang islands off the coast of Sematan. The island is a good 30-minute boat ride away from Telaga Air jetty.
Accommodation is extremely rudimentary. The bunkers (as I like to call them) are equipped with two beds, a clothesline and hooks, as well as a bulb and fan which are only switched on from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. when the generator is turned on.
There are gaps for ventilation which to my extreme delight (no sarcasm here) lets in various geckos, bats and bugs for me to study. Asian water monitors (Varanus salvator) and skinks overrun the island. There wasn’t much variety in butterfly species around the campsite. Birdwings (probably Troides helena but I can’t be too sure) are dominant.
There isn’t very much to do during the day other than your run-of-the-mill beach stuff. We did a bit of tourist-watching (and judging) and a bit of sea-wading (not too deep for fear of jellyfish) but not much else.
Nights on the island were a bit more interesting. We went tekoyong (snail) hunting, traversing sharp and slippery rock. I learnt that this is not a brilliant idea if you’ve got one flat foot and are wearing flip-flops with no traction.
3 species appear on the island: green, hawksbill and loggerhead. We got to watch a green turtle (the commonest of the lot) lay its 92 eggs before dragging itself back to the sea.
While waiting for the turtle-mom to do her thing we were allowed to release two pails of hatchlings (a bucket of greens and a bucket of hawksbills) into the sea. They are attracted to light and some will try to go up rather than down the beach.
It is a bit disheartening to know that most of the baby turtles we ushered into the sea are in a short time savaged by sharks. It almost feels as though we delivered them to their deaths.
Gui Ling Gao
On a side note, I also now know for sure that this black Chinese pudding translates to “turtle jelly” for a very good reason – because it is turtle! It is made of powdered turtle plastron (shell) and herbs.
The species of turtle traditionally used is the golden coin turtle (Cuora trifasciata) which is listed under IUCN as being critically endangered.
“Medicinal properties” or not, I am extremely relieved that I have never eaten any.
I worry that I might be unsuspectingly eating protected animals ground up into some other herbal dessert.