Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area or also known as TIHPA is the world's first transboundary marine protected area for marine turtles. This was established in May 1996 when a Memorandum of Agreement between the Government of Malaysia and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines was signed in Manila. It involves the implementation of a joint management program to ensure the survival of the population of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) that still exist in the area. In general, the approach is integrated management through regional cooperation and coordination. The main focus in TIHPA is the conservation (Turtle conservation and management program) and research (research and monitoring program) which is:

I. Turtle Conservation and Management Programme

  • a. Protection of nesting habitat
  • b. Prohibition of sand and coral excavation
  • c. Protection and rehabilitation of beach vegetation
  • d. Beach clearing activities
  • e. Protection of adult turtles
  • f. Prohibition of the use of fishing gears contributing to mortality or disturbance of turtles within the TIHPA
  • g. Screening of lights from buildings
  • h. Protection from main forms of pollution that might endanger turtles
  • i. Formulation of a Joint Management Plan for the TIHPA
II. Research and Monitoring Programme
  • a. Population status and distribution
  • b. Turtle harvest management
  • c. Dynamics of turtle egg trade
  • d. DNA analysis
  • e. Determination of the sex ration in ex situ hatching
  • f. Tagging of turtles
  • g. Joint resource and ecological assessment
  • h. Joint socio-cultural-economic & investment opportunity assessment

Turtle Island Park Map

TIHPA consists of nine islands that exceed the international treaty limits separating Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia three of these islands are Selingaan Island, Bakkungan Kechil Island and Gulisaan Island located in the waters of Sandakan Malaysia. These islands also form the Turtle Island Park which was gazetted in October 1977 and covers an area of 1,740 hectares. The other six islands designated by the Philippines are Boaan Island, Lihiman Island, Langaan Island, Great Bakkungan Island, Baguan Island and Taganak Island. TIHPA is located about 40 km north of Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia and about 1000 km southwest of Manila. The management of TIHPA is shared by these two countries to ensure the conservation of habitats and sea turtles independent of their territorial boundaries.

Subject to their respective laws, the contracting PARTIES must jointly manage and protect the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area as a protected area for green turtles and hawksbill turtles. The contracting PARTY shall endeavour to develop an integrated management program which shall highlight, at a minimum, the following:

  • i. Implementation of an integrated and uniform approach to conservation and research that is oriented towards wise management of the TIHPA
  • ii. Establishment of a centralized database and information network on marine turtles
  • iii. Development of appropriate information awareness programs primarily targeted towards the inhabitants of the Turtle Islands on the conservation of marine turtles and the protection of their habitats
  • iv. Implementation of a joint marine turtle resource management program
  • v. Development and implementation of a training and development program for the staff of the TIHPA
  • vi. Development and undertaking of eco-tourism programs

Mechanism: Institutional & Implementation

The JMC established to implement the purposes specified in Article II of MOA which is the JMC composed of 5 members from each contracting PARTY. The representatives may be accompanied by one or more experts and adviser who may come from non-government organizations involved in the conservation of marine turtles. The JMC serves as the policy-making body of the TIHPA and may coordinate or collaborate with international organizations involved in marine turtle conservation for the realization of the purposes of the MOA.

Malaysia's JMC member consist of:

  • 1. Director of Sabah Parks
  • 2. The Federal Attorneys General
  • 3. Director of Department of Fisheries Malaysia
  • 4. Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Tourism, Cultural & Environmental (Sabah)
  • 5. Deputy Director, Management and Operations Division, Sabah Parks.
Technical Advisor member consist of:
  • 1. Director of Sabah Fisheries Department
  • 2. Director of Sabah Wildlife Department
  • 2. Eastern Sabah Securitu Command (ESSCOM)
  • 4. BMRI- Dr. Juanita Joseph (UMS)
  • 5. The State Attorney General's Chambers


To be achieved by the Regional Program linking in with marine turtle programs in other regions through liaison with Coral Triangle Initiative goal 3 (marine protected area) and goal 5 (threatened species), the UNEP East Asian Seas Program, the IUCN/WWF TRAFFIC Network and other non-government organizations and many more.


The Turtle Islands Park lies 40 km north of Sandakan and located between the Tawi-tawi region of the Philippines. The park comprises three small islands, Selingan, Gulisan and Bakkungan Kechil. It covers an area of 1,740 hectares which includes the surrounding reefs and seas. Two species of turtles - Greens (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) are special features of this park. Throughout the year, they come ashore at night to lay their eggs. Hatcheries exist on all three islands. Sea Turtles are not the only attraction of the islands. The clear turquoise colored sea and coral reefs are ideal for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. When the fruit trees are in season, the islands have another interesting visitor - the Island Flying Fox. The islands became a marine park in 1977. Staff are resident on all three islands to safeguard the park. In addition to serving as a source of food for green turtles and hawksbill turtles that land or stop at the turtle island park, the coral reefs around the park are also home to marine habitats in the waters of the Turtle Island Park.

Turtle Islands Park Map


There are several activities and programs carried out at the turtle islands park which is:

1. Hatchling Release Programme

The main attraction of the Turtle Islands Park is the turtle, watching turtle egg laying and hatchling release programme is the highlight of the visit. However, only occurs during the night. Thus, only overnight visitors to the islands have opportunity to experience the occasion. At the same time, visitors could learn and understood how the conservation process executed by parks employees.

2. Ecotourism - Mud Volcano

Other touristic attraction is the bubbling mud volcanoes, which is only found in Pulau Bakkungan Kechil. The mud volcanoes found here is the only few found in Sabah (the other being on Pulau Tiga). A mud volcano is simply a mild surface bubbling of liquid mud and natural gas coming from underneath the surface of the earth.

3. Education & Awareness Program

A turtle education exhibition participated by the Turtle Islands Park

The nest adoption program (Nest Adoption) established by Turtle Islands Park since 2016 until now.

Practical students from the local university/Polytechnic are doing the activity of tracking turtle eggs and recording the size of adult turtles.

4. Research

Research activities conducted by staff during the day

Research activities conducted by staff at night

5. Anniversary of Turtle Islands Park Gazettement

The Turtle Islands Park continues to take steps to implement conservation efforts in collaboration with various domestic and foreign agencies in line with the goal of the Sabah Parks (TTS) strategic plan, which is world-class management.

Link for information anniversary gazettement: Sabah Media: