Norris, D., Michalski, F., & Gibbs, J. P. (2018). Beyond harm’s reach? Submersion of river turtle nesting areas and implications for restoration actions after Amazon hydropower development. PeerJ, 2018(1), e4228.
The global expansion of energy demands combined with abundant rainfall, large water volumes and high flow in tropical rivers have led to an unprecedented expansion of dam constructions in the Amazon. This expansion generates an urgent need for refined approaches to river management; specifically a move away from decision-making governed by overly generalized guidelines. For the first time we quantify direct impacts of hydropower reservoir establishment on an Amazon fresh water turtle. We conducted surveys along 150 km of rivers upstream of a new dam construction during the low water months that correspond to the nesting season of Podocnemis unifilis in the study area. Comparison of nest-areas before (2011, 2015) and after (2016) reservoir filling show that reservoir impacts extend 13% beyond legally defined limits. The submerged nesting areas accounted for a total of 3.8 ha of nesting habitat that was inundated as a direct result of the reservoir filling in 2016. Our findings highlight limitations in the development and implementation of existing Brazilian environmental impact assessment process. We also propose potential ways to mitigate the negative impacts of dams on freshwater turtles and the Amazonian freshwater ecosystems they inhabit.