Ecological Gymkhana releases 274,000 turtle hatchlings in the Amazon

Riverine communities living on the banks of the Juruá River, in the Amazon, were finally able to resume a tradition: they held an Ecological Gymkhana in November to mark the end of the turtle monitoring season. The event brought together approximately 500 people in the Pupuaí community. Strict health safety protocols were adopted, such as the use of protective masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

In 2021, the municipality of Carauari released around 274,000 hatchlings in the Médio Juruá Territory — 233,300 hatchlings were turtles, and the remaining were tracajás. They were released on 18 spawning beaches located in the Uacari and Médio Juruá reserves, which are monitored for five months every year.

In addition to bringing together residents and monitors, the event helps raise awareness among children and young people. The importance of biodiversity conservation is conveyed through lectures, workshops, and other recreational activities. Due to the pandemic, each community released their own hatchlings the previous year.

This year, the event occurred after the Forest Olympic Games, a sports competition involving local communities. Team “Andiroba”, formed by the Roque and Nova Esperança communities, came first, followed by Team “Tambaqui”, which brought together the communities of Bauana, Bom Jesus, Imperatriz and Idó.

Turtle conservation is one of the activities promoted by the Médio Juruá Territory Program (PTMJ) under the coordination of SITAWI. USAID/Brazil and Natura support the program, together with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. The Partnership Platform for the Amazon (PPA) acts as a strategic partner, and a number of local community organizations play the role of implementing partners, including ASPROC, ASMAMJ, AMECSARA, AMARU, CODAEMJ, and ASPODEX. Other supporting organizations include ICMBio, the State Secretariat for the Environment (SEMA), and OPAN.

The Ecological Gymkhana was hosted by local riverine communities in partnership with the São Raimundo Community Extractive Groups Association (AMECSARA), the Uacari Agroextractive Association (AMARU), and the Carauari Rural Producers Association (ASPROC), as well as ICMBio, SEMA, the Carauari municipal government, the Juruá Institute, the Pé de Pincha Project (UFAM) and the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS).

“The Ecological Gymkhana is an event we've held for a few years to celebrate the end of closing of our activities for the year. We use this opportunity to exchange experiences through workshops and activities, and also to thank local monitors and communities for their efforts. Without them, the conservation of these species would face serious problems,” says Raimundo Nonato Cunha de Lima, president of AMECSARA.

Monitoring takes place for five months, from July, the beginning of the spawning season, to November, when the last eggs hatch. Monitors receive financial support because they have to stay on the beaches, far from their communities, and are unable to maintain other sources of income.

Turtles, tracajás and other species are targeted by poachers and smugglers, who capture and sell them. They are usually hunted during the spawning season, when they are on solid ground and move slowly.

In addition to ensuring the reproduction of turtles and the repopulation of lakes and rivers, monitoring contributes to the conservation of other animal species, such as waterfowl, fish, alligators, and mammals, with positive results for the ecosystem.

Impact — Riverine communities started monitoring turtles, more than 30 years ago, there were three spawning beaches in the region then, and only six monitors. In the early 2000s, that number rose to seven and 27, respectively. Currently, due to the partnerships and support from several institutions, the total number of sites grew to 18, with 45 monitors.

Consequently, annual release figures rose from 3,000 to 274,000 hatchlings in 2021.

“For me, conservation means a lot. When I started doing this work, I thought we would never get to where we are today. The results are good, and, with the help of our partners and other institutions, we can see much improvement,” says Francisco Mendes da Silva, known in the region as “seo” Bomba.

One of the first local monitors and a resident of the Manariã community, Silva is responsible for one of the largest spawning sites in the region, and looks after 600 nests a year. He works together with his children João Pedro and Andrea and his wife Francisca. “I feel very happy when we start releasing the hatchlings, hoping that each one of them manages to get past natural predators and grow. It's a beautiful feeling," says Silva. 

Silva is famous in the region for his accumulated knowledge about turtles. People from other communities joke that local turtles can even recognize "seo" Bomba's gait. “They know it's me, so they don't run away. They feel protected," confirms Silva with a beam.

News — In addition to monitoring, the Manariã, Xibauazinho and Vila Ramalho communities (located in the Uacari reserve) became involved in a new production chain this year: breeding turtles in excavated tanks for the sustainable management of the species.

With the authorization of the Amazonas state government, they will sell turtles and have a new source of income. In order to ensure the conservation of the species, they will comply with an annual quota, based on the total number of protected hatchlings. In addition to  the set quota, animals must also reach a minimum weight to be sold: 1.5 kilograms for turtles, and 1 kilogram for tracajás.