Like a slow-moving wave of green cuteness, plodding along with adorable fervor, thousands of baby turtles make their way to the Amazon river and the start of a new life. This charming scene was made possible by Brazil's Turtles of the Amazon Project (O Projeto Quelônios da Amazônia), an organization which aims to make the first stages of life a little easier for the endangered reptiles who have suffered a long history of mistreatment and exploitation from man. The Turtles of the Amazon Project, along with Brazil's Foreign Ministry and some helpful locals, recently coordinated the release of 180,000 tiny young Arraus river turtles into the Amazon river, a few hundred miles from the capital city of Manaus. While the threatened species are hardy breeders, producing up to 100 offspring per season, only about 5 percent of the babies survive the activities of humans and other predators -- but the project hopes to better their chances.
Arraus, much like sea turtles, bury their eggs in holes on the sandy shore and leave them to fend for themselves. This vulnerability has long made them an easy target for predators, and humans, too. When European colonists arrived to the region and discovered the turtle eggs, they quickly became a culinary favorite among high society. The eggs were also exploited to make oil, used to light lamps before the advent of kerosene.
In the 1930s, conservationists began to underscore the importance of preserving the species by protecting their hatching grounds. Eventually, the government became involved, sponsoring the creation of the Turtles of the Amazon Project. Since its formation in 1979, the project has successfully released around 40 million juvenile turtles, of 70 different species.
The project enlists the help of locals, who gather the eggs and place them in a turtle nursery of sorts. When they hatch, they are cared for about thirty days so they'll be stronger and less attractive to predators when it comes time to release them.
Ah, saving a species has never been so cute.