Trinidad authorities regret turtle tragedy

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Friday July 13, 2012 – Trinidad authorities have expressed regret that heavy excavators may have crushed leatherback eggs and hatchlings on a section of a prime nesting beach, but stressed the work was crucial to redirect a river that was threatening to erode larger nesting areas for the endangered sea turtle.

Drainage director for the Environment and Water Resources Ministry, Shamshad Mohammed, said the nesting areas on Grand Riviere beach were waterlogged and 80 percent of the eggs were already destroyed.

“We truly regret the slaughter of these magnificent sea creatures,” he said in a government statement issued Wednesday.

Allan Bachan, director of the local Turtle Village Trust, said the area where heavy equipment was used was determined to be the best place to move sand on the 1-kilometer beach “in order to save the remaining 97.9 percent of the eggs, which is estimated to be over a million eggs.”

Observers in Grand Riviere, where many people depend on ecotourism for their livelihoods, claim they saw leatherback eggs and healthy hatchlings wantonly crushed by a heavy machinery operator over the weekend as crews redirected a shifting river that was eroding nesting sites and threatening a hotel.

Residents said they rescued hundreds of hatchlings dredged up by the machinery, but others were injured and eventually devoured by vultures and dogs on the beach, where it is believed that about 3,500 nesting females deposit over 200,000 eggs a year.

According to Diego F. Amorocho, species program coordinator with the World Wildlife Fund’s Caribbean and Latin American programs, even if 2,000 eggs were lost during the weekend operation it would represent only about one percent of the total production for the northern Trinidadian beach.

“Even though this is a terrible situation, fortunately it does not represent a significant threat to the stability of the leatherback turtle colony in Trinidad. Nonetheless, local authorities in Trinidad should take the necessary measures to avoid such a tragedy from happening again,” Amorocho said.

Piero Guerrini, whose Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel had been threatened by the shifting river, which began meandering closer to his business in December, has said the work redirecting the waterway was “done too late and it was done in the wrong way.” He and other local stakeholders said they had pressed the government for months to intervene.

Officials have not explained why it took so long to organize the intervention, which came around the peak of hatching season.

Marc de Verteuil, of Trinidad’s Papa Bois Conservation Organization, said the Grande Riviere River had eroded some of the dense nesting areas on the beach before the weekend, but the government work crews made a bad situation worse. His group has called for an investigation into the matter, claiming the work crews blatantly failed to follow protocol.

Leatherback sea turtles have existed since prehistoric times, but are endangered today. Only a small fraction of hatchlings survive and even fewer go on to reach adulthood and reproduce. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)