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Safe haven for turtles

It's hard to suppress an anthropomorphic twinge when the tiny sea turtles crawl out of a pail, briefly get their bearings, and then head for the sea.

Talk about venturing into the unknown! Hatched from eggs gathered along the beach of Praia do Forte, in the Brazilian state of Bahia, and carefully incubated for two months, the fragile creatures must now face an ocean of hungry crabs, sea birds, octopuses and fish. Out of every thousand, one or two will survive and return to this same beach as an egg-laying adult.

But this is enough for the widely acclaimed Pró-Tamar Foundation ("tamar" being a contraction of tartaruga marinha, or sea turtle in Portuguese). This IDB-supported non-governmental organization has ensured that the turtles that eventually return will have a safe place to lay their eggs. In the process, Pró-Tamar is setting the standard for working with local communities, many of whose members are former turtle hunters and egg gatherers.

When Pró-Tamar was founded two decades ago, the populations of Brazil's five species of sea turtles were in a precarious situation, victims of intensive harvesting for meat and eggs by local people. Today, Pró-Tamar is protecting critical nesting beaches along a 1,000-km stretch of coastline through a network of 22 field stations in eight states.

Local fishermen serve as guards and other community members help collect eggs, conduct nature tours, and tag and release turtles that become entangled in nets. At the same time Pró-Tamar helps the communities launch tourism ventures and carry out projects in environmental health, education, and general coastal management.

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