In Rare Event, 90,000 Turtles Hatch on a Beach in Brazil

Watch a 'turtle tsunami' of giant South American river turtle hatchlings.

Giant South American river turtle hatchlings
About 71,000 hatchlings emerged on the first day.

WCS

Tens of thousands of turtle hatchlings emerged from a sandy beach in Brazil in a rare event that occurs in only a few places worldwide. 

The giant South American river turtle hatchlings (Podocnemis expansa) were born in a protected area on the Purus River, which is a tributary of the Amazon. 

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) conservationists monitored the adult females and their nests at the Reserva Biológica do Abufari (Abufari Biological Reserve) for months before the hatching occurred.

“The hatching period is always a phase of great anticipation. It is the end result of an entire conservation effort by so many,” Camila Ferrara, aquatic turtle specialist for WCS Brazil, tells Treehugger. “We start before the nesting period, about three to four months before.”

They weren’t disappointed as about 71,000 hatchlings emerged on the first day, followed by about 21,000 a few days later.

“Witnessing mass outbreak is always a great privilege, but it is also witnessing the effort to conserve turtles generating new lives,” Ferrara says.

“Mass birth is an important survival strategy for turtle hatchlings. It is also a rare event, since this event occurs in few places in the world and with few other species. Other species that uses the same strategy are certain sea turtles, namely olive and green turtles.”

While the event is breathtaking and hopeful, the odds of living very long are slim for the hatchlings. Ferrara says less than 1% will survive.

turtle hatchlings Brazil beach
The turtles were born in a protected area on the Purus River. WCS

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hatchlings have to dodge all sorts of predators including birds, crabs, and raccoons in order to try to make it safely to the sea. In the water, they can be eaten by fish and birds. NOAA estimates that somewhere between one in 1,000 to one in 10,000 sea turtles survive to adulthood.

WCS conservations are studying mass turtle hatchlings in order to help improve the protection of the species, which the group says has been threatened by the trafficking of their meat and eggs. Podocnemis expansa is listed as lower risk/conservation dependent on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

“Giant South American river turtles provide important environmental services as a part of the food web, contributing to energy flow, nutrient cycling, scavenging, and soil dynamics,” Ferrara says.

The giant South American river turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, according to the National Aquarium. Females can weigh up to 200 pounds (90 kg) with shells longer than 30 inches (.8 meters). Males are smaller with shells reaching about 19 inches (.5 meters). Hatchlings are about 2 inches (5 cm) long.

“For the giant South America river turtle, birth is an explosion of life, but also it is the most fragile phase,” Ferrara says. “In some areas, hatchlings use mass birth to increase their survival. The synchronization of birth allows them to travel together to the river to start a new journey.”

View Article Sources
  1. WCS. "TURTLE TSUNAMI! WCS Releases Incredible Footage Of Mass Hatching Of Locally Endangered Turtle". Newsroom.Wcs.Org, 2020.

  2. Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. "South American River Turtle/ Podocnemis Expansa". 2020, doi:https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.1996.RLTS.T17822A7500662.en.

  3. Howell, Ken. "Giant South American River Turtle (Podocnemis Expansa)". Aqua.Org, 2020.