Ecological scavenger hunt promotes the release of 274,000 turtle hatchlings in the Amazon

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After the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, riverside communities that live on the banks of the Juruá River, in the Amazon, returned to a tradition in November: the holding of the Ecological Gymkhana to mark the end of the turtle monitoring season. At the event, which brought together around 500 people in the Pupuaí community, health safety protocols were adopted, such as the use of protective masks and proof of the vaccine against COVID. 

In 2021, around 274,000 puppies were released in the Juruá Middle Territory, municipality of Carauari. Of the total, 233,300 were turtles and the rest were tracajá from 18 trays, as the animal spawning beaches are called located in the Uacari and Médio Juruá reserves, where the monitors work for five months. 

The contest, in addition to promoting the meeting of residents and monitors, counts on awareness-raising work for children and young people, through lectures, workshops and other recreational activities. In 2020, because of the pandemic, it was replaced by the release of the animals carried out separately in each of the communities (read more here)

This year, the event was promoted following the Forest Olympiad, a sports competition between communities (the “Andiroba” pole, formed by the Roque and Nova Esperança communities, came first, followed by the “Tambaqui”, which brought together Bauana, Bom Jesus, Empress and Ido). 

The conservation of turtles in the region is one of the activities supported by the Middle Juruá Territory Program (PTMJ), coordinated by SITAWI, with the support of USAID/Brazil and Natura. The PTMJ also has the Partners for the Amazon Platform (PPA) as a strategic partner and the participation of the Bioversity/CIAT Alliance. Local community organizations (ASPROC, ASMAMJ, AMECSARA, AMARU, CODAEMJ and ASPODEX) are among the implementers of the program's actions, which also include ICMBio, the State Secretariat for the Environment (SEMA) and OPAN.

With support from the PTMJ, the Ecological Gymkhana was held by the riverside dwellers themselves in partnership with the Association of Extractive Residents of the São Raimundo Community (AMECSARA), with the Association of Extractive Residents of the Uacari Reserve (AMARU), and the Association of Rural Producers of Carauari (ASPROC), as well as ICMBio, SEMA, Carauari City Hall, Juruá Institute, Pé de Pincha Project (UFAM) and Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS).

“The Ecological Gymkhana is an event we've held for a few years to celebrate the closing of work. It is a time 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 be harmed”, says Raimundo Nonato Cunha de Lima, president of AMECSARA.

Local monitors keep watch on the trays for five months, between July – when the turtles start looking for spawning areas – and November – the month when the last eggs hatch. These monitors receive financial support because they have to stay on the beaches, far from their communities, unable to maintain other sources of income.

Turtles, turtles, and yaçás are targets of illegal hunters and smugglers who capture the animals for sale. They are usually hunted during spawning, when they are on the beaches and with slower movements.

Monitoring, in addition to ensuring the reproduction of turtles and repopulation of lakes and rivers, contributes to the conservation of other species of fauna, such as water birds, fish, alligators and mammals, with positive results for the ecosystem. 

Tabuleiro Manaria at RDS Uacari, Middle Juruá region in Carauari, Amazonas, Brazil. In the photo, in the center, Francisco da Silva, known as Bomba, who monitors and takes care of the chelonians on the Manaria board, together with a team of researchers from the Pé de Pincha project at the Federal University of Amazonas. September 2021. Photo: Bruno Kelly.

Impact

More than 30 years ago, when the riverside people started the work with the monitoring of turtles, there were 3 trays in the region and 6 monitors. This number rose to 7 and 27, respectively, in the early 2000s. Currently, with the partnerships and support of institutions, the total number of boards has grown to 18, with 45 monitors.

The result was that the annual release of chicks increased from about 3,000 animals a year to 274,000 in 2021. 

“For me, conservation means a lot. When I started doing this monitoring, I thought we would never get to where we are today. There are good results and, with the help of partners and institutions, we see improvement even more”, 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 trays in the region, taking care of 600 nests a year. He works with his children — João Pedro and Andrea — and his wife Francisca. “I am very happy when the release of the puppies begins. I'm hoping that each one of them manages to get past natural predators and grow. It's beautiful”, says Silva.  

The knowledge about turtles accumulated by Silva over the years is recognized in the region. Residents of other communities even joke that the turtles, when they are on the beach, know “seo” Bomba by step. “They know it's me and they don't run away. They are protected”, confirms Silva, through a broad smile.

News

In addition to monitoring, this year the communities Manariã, Xibauazinho and Vila Ramalho, who are in the Uacari reserve, are also starting to participate in a new production chain: the creation of turtles in tanks excavated for the sustainable management of the species. 

With the authorization of the government of the State of Amazonas, the riverside dwellers will have a source of income through the commercialization of the turtles. There will be an annual quota, with an amount allowed for trade, established based on the total number of protected puppies, thus ensuring conservation. In addition to the determined quantity, the animals must reach a minimum weight to be sold – 1.5 kilograms for turtles and 1 kilogram for tracajás.