Today is world turtle day! Hooray for the turtles!
In honor of turtles everywhere, I wanted to give a shout out to one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon in Vitoria: Projeto Tamar.
Projeto Tamar is an NGO working throughout Brazil to study, protect, and rescue sea turtles. The name comes from the Portuguese for sea turtle, tartaruga marinha. Five species of sea turtle nest along Brazil’s coast, and one of Projeto Tamar’s initiatives it to observe and protect their nests. To date, Projeto Tamar has protected more than 25,000,000 baby turtles from egg to ocean. The organization also works with local fishermen to develop alternative methods that reduce the risk of sea turtle death from nets and has facilities up and down Brazil that work to educate the public about sea turtles and their major threats.
One unique skill I’ve developed since moving to Vitoria is sea turtle spotting. I can spot the shiny head of a turtle popping up for a breath in my peripheral vision at high noon without sunglasses. It’s one of the unintended consequences of my expat life. I’ve also become quite the amateur expert on sea turtles thanks to our regular visits to our local Projeto Tamar site. We take my daughter, but I’m the one hovering a little too close to the babies the staff always keep their eyes on. They look just like leaves bobbing in the water. A little touch wouldn’t hurt. I’d only use one finger. I’d be sooooo gentle.
In honor of turtles everywhere and to show off my sea turtle trivia, here are five facts I’ve learned thanks to Projeto Tamar.
Fact 1 The sea turtle species that nest along Brazil’s coast are olive ridely, green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback. The turtles I regularly see in the bay are young green turtles.
Fact 2 Over the course of a year, the leatherbacks which nest here will migrate between Brazil and Africa. That is some impressive swimming.
Fact 3 Most sea turtles lay between 100 – 200 eggs per nest.
Fact 4 Experts estimate only about 1 in a thousand babies reaches adulthood in natural condition. 1 in a 1,000! Why so few? Well…
Fact 5 Sea turtles don’t reach maturity until 10-50 years old depending on the species. That’s a long time to try and avoid all the fishermen, boats, and plastic bags masquerading as jellyfish. Odds are against surviving all those threats for five decades. It’s why killing the moms as they’re laying eggs and then harvesting the eggs is so devastating for the species.
Fortunately in Brazil, Projeto Tamar has worked with local communities to dramatically reduce the hunting of turtles while they lay their eggs. In fact, Projeto Tamar has been working for 37 years, just long enough that they’ve recorded an 87% increase in babies hatched over the last five years compared to the previous five. The first few groups of turtles hatched under the protection of the project are finally old enough to come back and lay eggs of their own.
And what adorable babies hatch out of the eggs! Someday, I will convince a volunteer to let me hold. Surely out of over 25,000,000, there’s one baby turtle who doesn’t mind being held by a doting human aunt perfectly willing to handle chopped up pieces of fish and squid for feedings. Just for a few seconds?