Along Brazil’s Atlantic coast, local people patrol 620 miles of beaches to protect five endangered species of sea turtle. By protecting the turtles, they are also protecting an important source of income based on ecotourism. One local man said, "Turtles have become a big part of my life. If I or any other fisherman sees a turtle sick on the shore, we stop and try to help it."
For the past 18 years a pioneering project called Tamar has re-educated fishermen, guided a growing tourist industry, and helped release 2.8 million turtle hatchlings into the sea. Begun by a university student who witnessed poachers slaughtering the huge sea turtles on the beach, the project has won international recognition for its conservation.
To help protect the giant creatures, 400 local people are employed to monitor 2-mile-long sections of the beach during nesting season. Eggs that are at risk to predators are transferred to a hatchery.
The protected turtle habitat has attracted a growing number of tourists. At Tamar headquarters in Praia de Forte, more than 300,000 people tour the museum and visitors’ center each year. Local people sell an array of handicrafts and turtle paraphernalia that are popular with the tourists and profitable for the craftsmen. Since the Tamar project began, fifteen low-rise, turtle-friendly hotels and numerous restaurants have been built along the coastline providing hundreds of jobs to local people.
Balancing ecotourism with conservation has been a tricky business at times, but so far both the people and the endangered turtles have reaped the benefits.