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Brazil: Turtle deaths might be connected to dam

Associated Press

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) – Brazilian prosecutors have started an investigation into a consortium that is building a huge dam in the Amazon, saying there are suspicions the group mishandled a turtle hatchery and caused the deaths of thousands of baby turtles.

If the investigation finds there was neglect by the consortium during work on the Belo Monte dam, the Norte Energia consortium could be taken to court, prosecutor Bruno Alexandre Gutschow told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Once built, Belo Monte will be the third-largest dam in the world.

One of the conditions imposed for the project is proper care of the turtle hatchery. It consists of several beaches on the Xingu river about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the project.

“If we confirm that there wasn’t enough care taken in the handling of the turtles, it would be one more element in the long list of conditions that are not being met,” Gutschow said. “We could prosecute the company for the environmental damage caused by the lack of an adequate plan.”

The investigation was spurred by a complaint from Juarez Pezzuti, a professor at the Federal University of Para who is considered one of world’s specialists in Amazonian turtles.

Pezzuti told prosecutors the environmental consulting firm hired by Norte Energia to handle the turtles demonstrated an absolute lack of knowledge about how to deal with local fauna.

The consortium said it has rigorously followed environmental requirements.

It said that during the turtles’ 2011 reproductive cycle, the subcontractor protected 800,266 recently hatched turtles belonging to the three major species in the region and helped them get to the river safely.

That was an increase over the previous year, when the protection was in the hands of a nearby town, said Valeria Saracura, a supervisor with the subcontractor, Biota Projetos e Consultoria Ambiental.

“We were hugely successful this year in meeting our goals,” Saracura told the AP.

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