The Baby Sea Turtles of Brazil's Bahia Coast
Praia do Forte, on Brazil's Bahian coast, has it all: white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and baby sea turtles.
That last perk is thanks to Project TAMAR, a nonprofit organization that protects five species of sea turtles that visit more than 680 miles of Brazilian coastline. TAMAR runs 23 research stations, and the largest is in Praia do Forte, where the visitor center gives tourists a chance to meet sea turtles, learn about their life cycles and—if it's during the nesting season from October through March—watch some of the hatchlings reach the ocean. But even if you visit during the off season, you'll learn plenty about the endangered marine reptiles.
One of the most fascinating things you'll discover is that sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs in the very same spot where they were hatched. Once the eggs survive their natural predators (like rats) and hatch, the little ones have to scamper to the water without attracting birds and other hunters. After 30 years, the females of that generation will return to their birth spots to lay their own eggs. (Note to DIY adventurers: Going out to the beach by yourself at night with a flashlight is detrimental to the turtles, who are sensitive to outside stimuli when they lay eggs. So don't do it.)
However, as Praia do Forte's popularity grows, those turtles face a growing problem. After three decades, the spot were they were born may now be someone's pool or a paddleboat rental shack. "We can't fight. We have to work together," says Luena Fernandes, a marine biologist who works as an educator at TAMAR. Most recently, for instance, TAMAR worked with a new luxury hotel to alter its layout and lighting design so as not to disturb the turtles.