In late September, about 80,000 female Giant South American turtles gathered on their usual nesting beaches to dig nests and lay their eggs. These beaches, along the Guaporé/Inténez River and on the border between Brazil and Bolivia, became alive with baby turtles hatching from mid-December into early January. Footage captures these tiny creatures coming out of their eggs and crawling into the river, hundreds of thousands of them, making this the largest single gathering of turtles in the world. 
The Largest Hatching of Baby Turtles
“The annual nesting and hatching of the Giant South American river turtle is one Earth’s great natural spectacles,” said Camila Ferrara, Aquatic Turtle Specialist for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Brazil Program. “It is visually stunning, but also extremely important ecologically to the western Amazon ecosystem.” 
The Giant South American river turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in Latin America. They grow to about three and a half feet (1.07 meters) and 200 pounds (90 kg). They have dark-colored shells, pointy snouts, and strong, scaly legs. Researchers have found them in freshwater bodies of water in the Amazon and Orinoco. Additionally, they play a vital role in their ecosystem by scattering seeds along the rivers to help the vegetation regrow. Meanwhile, they eat leaves, fruits, seeds, insects, and fish.
These river turtles used to frequent riverbanks, but locals often hunted the species, including the eggs and the baby turtles. This occurs even in areas where hunting river turtles is illegal. When females crawl onto nesting beaches, they are vulnerable to hunters because they move slowly on land, unlike in the water. There, the females dig individual holes and lay 80 to 200 eggs. The temperature of the sand during the incubation process determines the sex of the hatchlings. Therefore, the eggs under shade tend to contain males and those in open sand yield females. 
Read: Massive turtle surfaces in Mississippi River, social media goes wild
Protecting the Species
Conservationists hope to make these beaches a protected area for this species, which would require coordination from Brazil and Bolivia. The WCS has used technology like thermal imaging and drones to keep track of the turtle population. Still, there is talk of using artificial intelligence to more accurately count the species. There used to be millions of these turtles, but the population has declined since they are targeted for oil, meat, and trade. Humans are primarily responsible for the declining numbers. When turtle harvesting was at its peak, about 48 million eggs were taken from nesting beaches yearly. 
“Safeguarding this population of giant South American river turtles takes a community approach,” said German Forero-Medina, Scientific Director with WCS Colombia. “WCS proudly works with local partners with a direct stake in ensuring that this species is part of their natural heritage.”
Read: World’s Largest Sea Turtle Emerged From The Sea And It Was Amazing
An Optimistic Future for the Turtles
Fortunately, conservation attempts so far have garnered some success. The number of baby turtles that made it to the Araguaia River has increased since the 40,000 in 2017. There were 76,000 in 2018, 96,000 in 2019, and 120,000 in 2020. Historians explain that the species used to be easy targets and considered a hot commodity. From 1700 and 1903, about 214 million eggs were shipped from South America to Europe for food.
Recently, the Amazonian Chelonian Program (called PQA by its Portuguese acronym) has aided the success of the repopulation. They monitor the turtle nests from when the females lay their eggs. Then they help the hatchlings get from beach to the river.
“The PQA is Brazil’s strongest animal conservation program,” says program coordinator Wilson Rufino Dias Júnior. “It is 40 years old and active in a number of northern states. In Tocantins, the project is at work on the Araguaia River near to the municipality of Caseara inside Cantão State Park, which is a permanently preserved area.” 
Keep Reading: Baby Chimp Who Melted His Mother’s Heart In Viral Video Is Found Dead In Her Arms
- “Scientists just documented the world’s largest hatching of baby turtles.” Arizona’s Family. January 13, 2023
- “WCS Scientists Document World’s Largest Hatching of Baby Turtles.” WCS Newsroom. The Wildlife Conservation Society.
- “Arrau Turtle.” Britannica. George R. Zug.
- “Giant South American River Turtle.” National Aquarium. Ken Howell.
- “Threats loom large over Amazon’s Arrau turtles, despite record number of hatchlings.” Monga Bay. Suzana Camargo. March 17, 2021