On the beach in Juncal, on the Lower Xingú River, turtles lay around 90 eggs per nest
Credit image: Mario Osava/IPS
Belo Monte Dam and Hunters Endanger Amazon TurtlesBy Mario Osava*
BAJO XINGÚ, Brazil, (Tierramérica) - Luiz Cardoso da Costa was horrified as he watched the Amazonian manatee, a large docile beast, bleeding out from the knife wound he had dealt it, yet greedily gulping down grasses as if eating could somehow stave off death.
He was not expecting such an agonisingly drawn-out death. And it led him to swear off the hunting of these aquatic mammals, also known as seacows, which can reach sizes of up to half a ton of meat, fat and hide, which fetch a high price on the black market.
He had decided to use a knife and aim for the animal’s heart, because the traditional method of killing Amazonian manatees (Trichechus inunguis) in Brazil seemed too cruel: sticking rods into their nostrils so that they die of asphyxiation.
But what provoked Da Costa, formerly a "great predator", to give up all forms of hunting forever was witnessing some 800 turtles being loaded onto a boat destined for Manaus, the central metropolis of the Amazon region, in northwestern Brazil. On that particular occasion, 13 years ago, he himself had sold "only around 20" of those 800, but the sight of such a huge number of dead turtles together shook him to the core.
His conversion was dramatic. Today he is the heart and soul of environmental protection in Tabuleiro do Embaubal, a group of more than 100 islands in the final stretch of the Xingú River, in the eastern Amazon, whose beaches are the principal known remaining breeding grounds of Amazon turtles.
Thousands of females gather here in September and October, especially on the beach in Juncal. They dig holes in the sand to serve as nests, lay their eggs, cover them up with sand, and then return to the river.
The spectacle of sand flying through the air as multitudes of large turtles dig their nests and lay their eggs could be a major tourist attraction some day, believes Saloma Mendes de Oliveira, secretary of the environment in the municipality of Senador José Porfírio, which includes the Tabuleiro do Embaubal archipelago. As well as a source of revenues, this would also promote the commitment of local communities to the preservation of nature, she added.
For now, the large gatherings of turtles makes them especially vulnerable to hunters, who continue to take advantage of the high prices for turtle meat and eggs, despite the fact that their capture is an environmental crime punished with heavy fines and even prison sentences in some cases.
This is why efforts are being stepped up to monitor the beaches during the "summer" or low-water period between June and November. Since September, Da Costa has been jointed by another 20 rangers.
These are people hired by a company called Biota, created through an agreement between the municipal government of Senador José Porfírio and Norte Energia, the consortium awarded the contract to build the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant. Norte Energia is responsible for monitoring and mitigating the impacts of the two dams it will build as part of the project.
A good deal of controversy surrounds the potential effects of this energy mega project in the Amazon region, whose total capacity of 11,233 megawatts will be limited to 40 percent effective capacity, on average, due to the sharp variation in the flow of the Xingú River.Read more, click here