The previously over-exploited Giant South American Turtle population is making a steady recovery thanks to the work of UEA and its partner universities in the UK and South America. Conservation teams have implemented a bottom-up strategy of protecting the turtles’ habitat by employing local people as beach guards. Their primary aim is to protect the turtles’ nesting areas round the clock during breeding season.
There are now over nine times the number of turtles in the populations covered by this program compared to 1997 – which is an average growth of 70,000 hatchlings per year. Moreover, not only has the turtle population thrived, other local species such as the Black Caiman, river dolphins and large catfish are also showing signs of population recovery.
Turtles were previously exploited for their meat and eggs, despite efforts to protect them beginning in 1967. The population continued to decline until it reached worrying levels in the late 1970s, creating the need for enforced protection.
Dr João Campos-Silva, a postdoctoral researcher on the project, stated ‘By including local dwellers in conservation practices, we can increase the effectiveness of conservation outcomes and enhance local welfare.’
Currently, six million people in the Brazilian Amazon depend directly on wild nature as an ecosystem service to provide them with the necessities they need to live, emphasising just how vital it is that the local communities understand the benefits of this action.
Carlos Peres, Professor of Tropical Conservation Ecology at UEA, hopes that this success will show governments the importance of local conservation action and its role in critical environmental restoration programmes.
However, working as a beach guard is not easy for the local people. It can be dangerous, and some feel that it is too unsafe to undertake given their relatively low pay. Researchers aim to improve this by asking governments to invest in conservation programs now that they have a track record of their success. Ideally workers should be provided with an independent income stream, securing the long-term viability of the program after it leaves the hands of researchers.