Twenty-five thousand baby river turtles were released on Sunday by a wildlife organization in the Peruvian rainforest. The release in Piedras Blancas was part of an effort called Buen Impacto, or “Say Yes to the Environment,” that aims to protect baby hatchlings from an extinction crisis in the Amazon basin.
Alberto Fernandez of WKA, a Peruvian environmental activist organization, said that the effects of climate change, pollution, and over fishing were all at play as baby turtles depend on low-salinity waters during their first few weeks.
“For the first few weeks, the hatchlings are drinking very little, but this happens every year because of the rain,” Fernandez said. “If you look around the surrounding regions, you will find, in most cases, many lower-salinity areas. If it wasn’t for the rains, these families wouldn’t exist.”
The process of getting from this first-meeting stage to the adulthood stage is incredibly difficult. The wetland turtles, known as sea turtles, have developed a head and neck; even at birth, babies only have tentacles and toes. But even at this young age, babies cannot yet swim and often suffocate as they come to the surface and use their legs as their life raft. Fernandez said that this situation has led to a worrying situation in which only half of baby turtles are surviving.
“In previous years we have tended to hand them back to nature, since they are a vulnerable species,” Fernandez said. “But we have tried to try and encourage them to survive and to have a chance at rehabilitation.”
In this year’s release, however, rescued and rehabilitated turtles were released by day and biologists were able to monitor their progress in the night. In addition to releasing more turtles, a smaller effort called Transform Me (Buen Transform – Buen Impacto) aims to return them to natural environments to prevent further extinction, while still allowing them the opportunity to grow. For translocation projects, translocation experts use goats to crush an area of land in an area where turtles can successfully nest.
While the event’s primary goal was to help save baby turtles, the translocation groups were able to study the turtles as well. “We have had some success — actually, I’d say most — with releasing turtles that were near the breeding [progression],” Fernandez said. “When we released the turtles as soon as we found them, we didn’t find their breeding range. For example, we released these female turtles in Puerto Luz, but they found their nest there.”
Santos Madrigal-Aria, a biologist at WKA who participated in the project, described the whole event. “I got to spend time with these turtles,” Madrigal-Aria said. “They don’t understand the change, only the sea turtles do, but our own small translocation team gave them a chance to recognize the sea turtles were alive and present, and therefore very important.”
The babies and their guardians were all carefully placed on the ocean floor and given tiny rocks to help anchor their bodies to the sand. The females were then raised in a tank for several months, as their mothers did not raise them to properly survive the journey to sea. When the turtles were ready, they were released with little open water to take to the ocean, in hopes of still having a chance at survival when the eggs hatched.
Read the full story at BBC.
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