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Winter 2003/2004
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In Brazil, GIS Helps Reduce Incidental Sea Turtle Capture in Fisheries

  click to see enlargement
This map shows where sea turtles are captured along the coast of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

In the early 1980s, Brazil's National Project of Conservation, Handling and Research of Sea Turtles (Project TAMAR-IBAMA) began to gather information about various marine species along the Brazilian coastline. Information collected included nesting locations, reproduction seasons, and any issues relating to the species' survival, habitats, and needs. One of the species of great concern to this group was the sea turtle.

In 1990 the incidental capture of sea turtles during fishing activities was considered the greatest cause of their mortality. By 2001, Project TAMAR-IBAMA ( had implemented an action plan to reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles during fishing activities. This action plan was developed with the help of a supporting resolution at The World Conservation Union (IUCN) ( World Conservation Congress conference in 2000. Because of the supporting IUCN resolution, Project TAMAR-IBAMA was able to strengthen actions already in process using the preexisting partnerships, seek financial aid for some specific projects, and obtain celebrity volunteers.

The goals of the action plan were to systemize information and make it available, develop and support researchers, and develop and implement mitigative measures.

Funding this plan required cooperation among many volunteers, communities, and institutional partners. The main institutional partners included specialized IBAMA Centers for Fishing Resources (CEPENOR in Belém-PA, CEPENE in Tamandaré-PE, CEPSUL in Itajaí-SC, and CEPERG in Rio Grande), the Program REVIZEE of the Environment Department, the Albatroz Project (Forest Institute), the universities and museums dedicated to sea research, the Agriculture and Supply Department, and the fishing sector.

The information system designed for Project TAMAR-IBAMA is referred to as SITAMAR. The objective of SITAMAR is to improve the collection process, storage, transmission, and availability of information on Project TAMAR-IBAMA along with integrating the existing database and sharing the information through the Web.

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Active areas of Tamar Project.

The development of SITAMAR began in 2003 in two pilot study areas-one on the north coast of Bahia, using reproductive and nonreproductive data, and the other on the south coast of Brazil, where the interaction of sea turtles with oceanic fishing was analyzed. The databases were made available online for viewing and updating by those involved.

Initially, information relating to the conservation of sea turtles and their ecosystems was stored in two databases. One database stored data related to the reproduction process, and the other stored all other data such as data about the feeding areas of sea turtles along the coast and on Brazilian oceanic islands.

Because of national and international growing concern in evaluating a more systematic and integrated way to strengthen the connection between conservation of sea turtles and fishing activity, a third database was created. This database included data such as details of the capture of sea turtles during fishing activities.

The development of a GIS, integrated with the existing database, has improved the national system of collecting and processing data regarding the mortality and incidental capture of sea turtles. The GIS makes quick systematization and integration with other databases possible, without losing information quality, along with facilitating spatial visualization of the collected data. Analysts are able to perform statistical analysis to compare the sea turtle information with environmental and oceanographic information for each study area. They have composed maps of the Brazilian coastline to display bathymetry, sea watercourse use, and development along the seashore along with sea turtle information. These maps are now being used in reports and papers, and there are plans to make them available on the Project TAMAR-IBAMA Web site. Overall, the GIS has been a fundamental tool for administration of the project and for sharing information with partners and the public.

The GIS was designed using ArcView 8.x, which was supplied by GEMPI (, an Esri distributor. Nasareh2000P supplied its GPS equipment. Other GIS software was considered; however, ArcView was chosen because it is the most used GIS in Brazil's environmental institutions including universities, public groups, and the government. It was felt that employing a widely used software would better enable the exchange of information.

The initial GIS layers included a map of Brazil (provided by the Esri Data & Maps CD), digital navigation maps (provided by the Diretoria de Hidrografia e Navegação da Marinha do Brasil), aerial images (provided by the Companhia de Desenvolvimento Urbano do Estado da Bahia), and other layers created using ArcView. Incoming data was provided by the various partners, which included points of capture of turtles, fishing areas, and more.

  a sea turtle
A sea turtle in its natural environment along the coast of Brazil.

Initially, the action plan was not well received by the fishing community because it believed its ability to catch fish would be reduced. It already felt impacted by the sea turtles because of incidences that caused equipment damage. Fortunately, additional plans to help reduce the capture and mortality of sea turtles involve cooperation with the fishing industry. Activities include training the observers who are to be present on the fishing boats. These observers will record data and have the technical skills to handle the captured animals, release them from fish hooks, care for any injuries or poor health as a result of the capture, and release them properly.

Project TAMAR-IBAMA has also formed a partnership with Uruguay and Argentina, which will expand the geographic extent of the sea turtle database.

For more information, contact Gilberto Sales, national coordinator of Plan Tamar Fishes (e-mail:; Guilherme Maurutto, system analyst of Plan Tamar Fishes (e-mail:, Web:; or Eliene Oliveira, GEMPI (e-mail:, Web:

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