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The Plight of the Critically Endangered Giant Amazon Turtle

Why care about turtles?

Turtles are unique ancient animals that have existed for over 250 million years. Despite this long history, recent human exploitation of turtles (especially for food and oil) has caused their populations to decline precipitously worldwide. About 42% of all turtle species are currently threatened with extinction. This global turtle decline phenomenon is so serious that experts believe that without strong conservation action many species of turtles will become extinct in the next decades.

While efforts to save sea turtles have become widely supported by the public, the plight of freshwater turtles goes largely unnoticed. This is especially concerning because freshwater turtles are important biodiversity components of ecosystems. Turtles play important roles in nutrient cycling; t hey are important dispersers of seeds in riverine forests, and they are sources of food for other animals. Their extinction could cause the environment to degrade in serious ways we cannot predict.

Human use of turtles is especially problematic, because hunters target breeding females and their eggs, which leaves turtles little chance to reproduce. Female turtles are easily collected live in large numbers while they are nesting on sandy beaches. They are simply flipped on to their backs and collected at leisure, and their eggs are easily sighted and collected. In the Amazon, where giant river turtles (up to a meter in length) were historically observed migrating in the hundreds of thousands, endangered turtles are now rarely spotted. And people continue to hunt them.

Finally, like polar bears, river turtles are susceptible to climate change . Climate change can affect river levels, which in turn affects turtles. River turtles depend on seasonal fluctuations of rivers to expose their nesting beaches in the dry season. If rivers fail to lower or flood too soon, turtles have nowhere to lay their eggs, and nests are flooded before they can hatch. In the Amazon we have observed large numbers of turtle nests (up to 100% on many beaches) flooded before eggs could hatch. More research is needed to monitor the effects of climate change on these endangered animals.

Finally, like polar bears, river turtles are susceptible to climate change. Climate change can affect river levels, which in turn affects turtles. River turtles depend on seasonal fluctuations of rivers to expose their nesting beaches in the dry season. If rivers fail to lower or flood too soon, turtles have nowhere to lay their eggs, and nests are flooded before they can hatch. In the Amazon we have observed large numbers of turtle nests (up to 100% on many beaches) flooded before eggs could hatch. More research is needed to monitor the effects of climate change on these endangered animals.

 

More about the critically endangered Giant Amazon River Turtle:

How is SELVA helping turtles and indigenous communities?

How is saving turtles beneficial to people?

How can I help save turtles and support indigenous communities?

 

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