Eco-friendly businesses in Borneo

Borneo is a rugged, adventurous, nature wonderland split between Malaysia, Indonesia, and the small nation of Brunei. All across the massive island you can find ancient rainforests, towering mountains, crystal clear beaches, diverse and exciting wildlife, and so much more. Borneo offers something for every nature loving traveller, but with great beauty comes great responsibility. Like the rest of the world, Borneo and its animal inhabitants are being hit hard with the effects of climate change. In the face of so much grim news, it can be easy to feel entirely hopeless when confronting the beast that is our current environmental crisis, but making a positive change is not out of our hands. One of the easiest ways to make a positive impact is to support businesses that are doing conservation work and are focused on protecting their local environment. Luckily, it is easy for travellers who want to contribute to a healthier world to do this in Borneo.

A view across the forests of Borneo.

Protect the turtles

On the small island of Mabul, off the coast of the east side of Malaysian Borneo, is some of the best scuba diving in the world. The dive resorts on the island have a big job in protecting their local reefs and sea creatures, due to local culture problems as well as greater global issues. One dive resort on the island has a dedicated conservation team that has a number of sea saving initiatives, one of which is to protect the green and hawksbill turtles. Like so many of the magnificent species living in Borneo, the local green and hawksbill turtles are endangered. Turtles lay their eggs on beaches, and as humans continue to overdevelop these beaches and the areas around them, it is becoming harder and harder for mama turtles to find safe places to lay their eggs.

Turtles that lay their eggs in poorer communities, like the island of Mabul, have additional hardships to face. The average turtle lays anywhere from 60-200 eggs at a time. Even on the low end of that range, that’s a lot of food for a hungry family that doesn’t have many other options. Here on Mabul, families from the local village will dig up the turtle eggs and cook them for dinner so they can survive. It happens often enough that the turtle population has been gravely affected.

Turtle hatchlings making their way out to sea

This is where the Egg Watch program comes in. If a local sees a turtle laying eggs on the beach and calls the dive resort, the resort will pay them for the tip. The money they give them can buy them significantly more food than the calories in the turtle eggs, so it’s in their best interest to call it in rather than take the eggs. The resort then sends experts from their conservation team to collect the eggs and move them to a safe place on the dive resort site, so the baby turtles can grow without worry and hatch when they’re ready. When choosing to visit businesses like this that do so much conservation work, your money will go directly to supporting the people and initiatives that our planet so desperately needs right now. Supporting eco friendly businesses is the best first step to creating a better world, while also having an amazing travel experience.

Jungle eco adventure

If you’re more of a land explorer than a mermaid, there are still plenty of eco-friendly businesses that offer life changing travel experiences. Sepilok, a very small town in Malaysian Borneo, is home to several gorgeous and exciting conservation centers that absolutely should not be missed: the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sunbear Conservation Centre. Both centres offer up close and personal views of these incredible animals, but they do it in a way that puts the animals first. The centres serve as an important source of education for visitors, and visitors serve as an essential source of funding to continue to care for and protect the animals and their habitats.

Like the turtles, Borneo’s orangutans and sun bears are facing some tough times. Orangutans live high in the trees of rainforests, but as more and more rainforests are destroyed in the name of creating space for palm oil plantations, these beautiful furry orange creatures are losing their homes. Sun bears, the world’s smallest species of bear, are incredibly cute and therefore have gotten tangled up in the exotic pet trade. People think these tiny bears will make cute and cuddly companions, but they are wild animals. When the sun bear cubs grow up, they’re severely abused, abandoned, or killed. The conservation centers in Sepilok rescue orangutans and sun bears that are left homeless and/or mistreated. They work to rehabilitate the animals so they can be released back to the wild whenever possible. The work they do is absolutely essential to the continuation of these species. Not only are you supporting important environmental work when you spend your day visiting them, but it is also the best way to see and get to know these magnificent animals. If you find yourself exploring Sarawak, the west side of Malaysian Borneo, there is no shortage of conservation centers there either. Don’t miss the Semengghoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Center for more opportunities to get to know the furry orange primates.

Mother and baby orangutan resting in the trees

Support national parks

Visiting national parks is another excellent way of supporting the environment. Long term, nature is more profitable when it is protected than when it’s destroyed in order to create a product to sell. By visiting national parks, you are using your money to show governments this truth. People want to see unspoiled nature, and in the long run a protected rainforest will make substantially more money through tourism than the area if the rainforest is cut down and turned into another palm oil plantation. There are tons of national parks in Borneo, but one of the best is Bako Park. It is the oldest national park in Sarawak, and one of the most beautiful that the island has to offer. Trek through untouched rainforest, seeking out proboscis monkeys and other local wildlife for a stunning travel experience you’ll never forget.

Borneo is a wonderland for any traveller who loves outdoor adventures. The massive island offers so much to everyone that has the good fortune to encounter it, and for this reason it is our duty to do everything in our power to protect its gifts. When considering a trip to Borneo, or anywhere else in the world, make a point of choosing eco-friendly businesses. The planet will thank you.

Dara Israel