By Ben Tavener, Contributing Reporter
BAHIA, BRAZIL – Each year hundreds of sea turtles make the journey to lay their eggs on Bahia’s golden sands. It’s a risky business, from the time the turtles haul themselves out of the turquoise waters, to the time their offspring emerge from the sand ready for their first daunting dip in the South Atlantic.
Despite years of decline, the sea turtle numbers are now recovering – thanks in no small part to the world renowned conservationists at Projeto Tamar, who have been giving these incredible creatures a helping hand for the last thirty years, as well as educating people about their plight.
An hour’s drive north of Salvador on Bahia’s famous Estrada do Coco (Coconut Highway), Praia do Forte is an affluent, visitor-friendly coastal town with pretty palm-lined streets, and also home to Projeto Tamar’s flagship visitor and education center.
Here guests can see all five of the world’s seven species of sea turtle that can be found in Brazil – the loggerhead, hawksbill, green, olive ridley and leatherback.
The visitor center is modern and nicely laid-out with an educational documentary on loop (with English subtitles) and information available throughout in English.
Friendly, enthusiastic guides show guests round the pools which offer great views of the turtles, with opportunities to watch them being fed. Facts and figures fly as the guides talk about how the turtles migrate, breed, haul out to lay their eggs, and how pollution and harmful fishing techniques nearly drove some of these turtles to extinction – an hour that is as fascinating as it is poignant.
Aside from turtles, there are sharks, rays, many types of fish, and a touchpool for the kids (and adults!) to get more hands-on experience with sea cucumbers, sea urchins and all things slimy and squidgy.
But it’s really the baby turtles that steal the show. As well as being incredibly cute, they also serve as a reminder of Projeto Tamar’s hard work and success: they currently monitor and protect nearly 20,000 clutches annually, and in 2010 the group celebrated their ten millionth baby turtle released into the sea.
However, turtles aren’t the only wildlife attraction Praia do Forte has to offer. Humpback whales are another big pull for tourists here, with those running the excursions practically guaranteeing a sighting between July and October.
Excursions include a lecture in English, followed by three to five hours at sea (depending on the company) spotting the whales. It is advised to remember the sunscreen and seasickness medicine.
Aside from all its wildlife spectacles, it is a great day-out with pristine beaches and crystal clear waters, a beautiful harbor and a range of shops, bars, cafés and restaurants to suit most budgets. Restaurants serve local food, including muqueca and bobó with fish or shrimps, and as you’re in Bahia you don’t have to look far to find a Bahiana dressed in white making acarajé.
Entry to Projeto Tamar in Praia do Forte is R$15 for adults (concessions available for students and children). Whale-watching from Praia do Forte will set you back about R$160 each, half-price for children.