The turtles of Pipa

The turtles of Pipa

Get to know the Sea Turtles of Pipa in this article originally published by Bora Magazine.

When we speak of a charismatic animal, we soon remember the sea turtles. These animals emerged about 100 million years ago and have endured all the changes that have taken place on the planet by adapting to them over time. Despite life in the marine environment, these animals still breathe through lungs and reproduce by nesting on sandy beaches throughout the tropical regions of the world. With the growth of the population these animals began to be threatened, directly and indirectly.

Five species of sea turtles occur on the Brazilian coast (Tartaruga- Verde, Tartaruga-Cabeçuda, Tartaruga- Oliva, Turtle-toothed Turtle, Turtle-toed or True). All of them are on the national and international list of endangered animals (IBAMA, IUCN). The most threatened species is the Turtle-to-Com or True Turtle which draws our attention to the great decline of populations due to the consumption of meat and eggs and the use of their hull plates in the manufacture of handicrafts including the comb. In our country, this species reproduces mainly in the state of Bahia and the southern coast of Rio Grande do Norte, where the TAMAR project teams work to monitor these areas.

Tibau do Sul was where the history of the TAMAR Project began in the Potiguar coast about 13 years ago with the important role of the Ecological Sanctuary of Pipa, until then a pioneer in the monitoring and protection of nests in the municipality. Today TAMAR monitors 42 kilometers of beaches in the period from November to June to register and protect the nests along the counties of the southern coast of the state registering more than 800 nests per season.

Within the municipality, the beaches of Cacimbinhas, Madeiro, Baía dos Golfinhos, Chapadão, Praia das Minas and Sibaúma are monitored, totaling a stretch of 9 kilometers called the Integral Study Area. In the stretch from Chapadão to Sibaúma, from December to April, the nightly monitoring of the beaches is performed with the objective of catching the females for marking and collecting tissue for genetic analysis among other information for research.

The Turtles of Pente correspond to 98% of the nests in the municipality and region. During the season 190 spawnings are observed on average. Like all other species of turtles, the Turtles of Pente have a very long life cycle reaching sexual maturity at 20 years and can live up to 100 years. After the incubation period of 50 to 65 days, the puppies tear the egg shells and begin the journey to the surface of the sand. These pups go out at night because the temperature is lower. After leaving the nest and entering the sea and after more than two decades free in the ocean the males and females return to the same region that they were born, already adults and ready for reproduction. The females that breed on our beaches come every two years and make 1 to 6 nests with 135 eggs each. They can reach more than 110 kilos and measure more than one meter of hull.

By nature, puppies are a rich source of food and play a key role in the food chain of many other groups of animals, so out of every thousand puppies that leave the nest and reach the sea only 1 or 2 will become adults.

The TAMAR project works in the management, conservation and research of turtles in the region due to the great threats present in the life cycle of this species so important to the marine ecosystem. Artificial lights and the disorderly growth of the shoreline are today the greatest threats to the reproduction of the Turtles.

Parallel to the monitoring of the beaches, environmental education activities are carried out together with the schools of the region and groups that visit the Ecological Sanctuary Partner of Pipa, in addition to the activities of Nights openings for the community and tourists who visit the Municipality. We have the privilege of being able to admire and share this wealth so threatened and exhausted all over the world, but so rich and abundant in the coast of Tibau do Sul. Let us preserve our True Turtles.

By Daniel Henrique Gil, biologist of the TAMAR - Pipa / RN Project. Text originally published in Bora Magazine - issue 03 - Dec / Jan 2014

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