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The mission to save the world's tiniest turtle

Words by Blyth Brentnall

Pictures of the Vallarta mud turtle are making the rounds of the web. Its species is special because it’s the smallest turtle in the world, measuring, on average, just 3.75 inches in length.

Native to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the cute little turtle also happens to be one of the most endangered in the world as rapid urbanization has threatened its natural habitat.

The species when first described five years ago, was already in dire straits but the threat has only grown since. To address the issue, in comes a conservation, breeding, and research center, called Turtle Island.

“Our mission is simple: save turtles and tortoises from extinction through acute rescue, care, research, breeding, and rewilding,” they write on their website. 

Helmed by Austrian scientist Peter Praschag, the nonprofit houses over 2,500 turtles belonging to more than 240 taxa in multiple locations across Austria, and has worked on conservation projects in Turkey, China, South Sudan, Bangladesh, and other countries throughout the world. 

Now, along with the University of Guadalajara, Turtle Island established an assurance colony in the area to house, research, and breed the Vallarta turtles before eventually rewilding them. Then a year later, in 2023 they came back to the area to erect a turtle protection fence.

That hard work has paid off, with the fence saving about 30 turtles from being struck by automobiles, and in February when three baby Vallarta turtles were born in captivity for the first time. 

“The hatching of the Vallarta mud turtle is a testament to the remarkable stress resilience of these incredible creatures,” Praschag said in a statement. “Despite facing numerous challenges in their natural habitat, they have shown the ability to overcome adversity and thrive in a protected environment.”

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund. This organization helps support underrepresented and underfunded Black, indigenous, and women of color-led organizations across the world. Find out more and support them here

Collective Sun. They help nonprofits get outfitted with solar power capabilities. Check them out here.

Florida Bicycle Association. An organization that helps mobilize people and promote greener living and safer biking. Find out more

This article aligns with the UN SDG Life On Land.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs