Over 100,000 turtle hatchlings returned to nature in the Amazon

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and caution to prevent the spread of the disease, communities in the Médio Juruá region, in the Amazon, were forced to use creativity to continue turtle monitoring. 

Participants have adopted health protocols. As a result, the traditional Ecological Gymkhana ceremony that celebrated the end of their work was replaced by animal-release events held separately in the 19 communities involved in order to keep social distance and prevent multiple communities from gathering together. Over 100,000 chelonians hatchlings were returned to nature.

In 2019, for example, the Ecological Gymkhana attracted more than 500 participants from 45 communities in the Uacari Sustainable Development Reserve and the Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve. In addition to bringing together all communities at the same time, the Gymkhana featured awareness-raising activities aimed at children and young people, including lectures by monitors, and a competition in which the winner was the spawning beach releasing the most animals.

Turtle conservation is one of the activities of the Médio Juruá Territory Program, coordinated by SITAWI with the support of the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB), Natura and Coca-Cola Brazil. The activity also involves representatives from the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and the Residents Association of the São Raimundo Extractive Community (AMECSARA).

The project provides support to monitors, who take turns monitoring riverbanks over a four-month period. The monitoring period runs from July (when turtles start looking for spawning grounds) until November (the month when the last eggs hatch). Financial support is necessary because during this period, monitors have to stay on the beaches, away from their communities, and are unable to pursue other sources of income.

Monitoring of turtles is important because these animals are targeted by poachers and smugglers. They are usually hunted during the spawning season, when they are on solid ground and move more slowly. 

"Because of the pandemic, we decided that, instead of the Gymkhana, the release would take place at one community at a time, with smaller teams to keep us all safe. We missed the lectures and the party, which local communities really enjoy; but on the plus side, we managed to involve more people, and release a significant number of animals," said Raimundo Nonato Cunha de Lima, an ICMBio firefighter and AMECSARA representative. 

Lima recalls that Médio Juruá communities have been engaged in monitoring activities for years, and this has helped to preserve the region's biodiversity. Turtle protection also benefits other species of predatory fauna, such as water birds, fish (mainly catfish), and alligators.

During the events held in each of the communities in 2020, some animals were released into reserve lakes, which have fewer predators. As a result, a greater number of turtles have a chance to reach adulthood. 

For 2021, Lima says that there should be a discussion on the format of the celebrations for the end of monitoring season, perhaps mixing an Ecological Gymkhana with community-based events.