From Washington Post: Turtle tragedy: Work crews crush thousands of leatherback eggs, hatchlings on Trinidad beach
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Thousands of leatherback turtle eggs and
hatchlings have been crushed by heavy machinery along a Trinidad beach
widely regarded as the world’s densest nesting area for the biggest of
all living sea turtles, conservationists said Monday.
Government work crews with bulldozers were redirecting the
Grand Riviere, a shifting river that was threatening a hotel where
tourists from around the globe watch the huge endangered turtles lay
their eggs. But several conservationists who monitor turtle populations
say the crews botched the job, digging up an unnecessarily large swath
of the important nesting beach in the tiny coastal town on Trinidad’s
Sherwin Reyz, a member of the Grand Riviere Environmental
Organization, estimated that as many as 20,000 eggs were crushed or
consumed by the scores of vultures and stray dogs that descended upon
the narrow strip of beach to eat the remains after the Saturday
operation by the Ministry of Works.
“They had a very good meal. I
was near tears,” said Reyz, who helped save hundreds of hatchlings that
were uninjured when they were dredged up by the heavy machinery. “It
was a disgusting mess.”
Leatherbacks, which can grow to more than 7
feet long, can weigh a ton and live to 100 years, will return to lay
their eggs on the beach of their birth. The nesting ground of Grand
Riviere is so popular with the globally endangered species that
nest-digging females sometimes accidentally dig up others’ eggs.
hotelier who had been pressing Trinidad’s government for months to
redirect the Grand Riviere was also shocked and dismayed by the end
result. The foundation of the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel had been
increasingly threatened by the shifting river and numerous calls did not
result in action until the weekend.
“For some reason they dug up
the far end of the beach, absolutely encroaching into the good nesting
areas. This could have been avoided with a much wiser approach. But it
was done too late and it was done in the wrong way,” said Italian
hotelier Piero Guerrini.
Phone calls to the offices of Trinidad’s ministers of public works and tourism rang unanswered Monday.
said problems with the river shifting west toward the hotel as the
waterway empties into the sea were hardly new, but previous
administrations handled the matter differently.
authorities were much quicker, much more responsive and also concerned
about the turtle nesting areas,” he said by phone on Monday. “This time,
there seemed to be no concern.”
Guerrini said his hotel was full
of tourists who had come to Trinidad to see the tiny leatherback
hatchlings climb out of their sandy nests and head for the surf, trying
to reach deep waters where they are safe from most predators.
the tourists saw injured hatchlings dying in front of their eyes as
bulldozers shifted the mouth of the river. “This really put a lot of bad
images in people’s minds,” Guerrini said.
Marc de Verteuil, of
the Papa Bois Conservation organization, said the river had already
eroded a lot of the dense nesting areas on the beach before the weekend,
but the government work crews made a bad situation worse.
equipment was basically crushing a much, much larger part of the beach
than made sense. It looked like a bit of a panic reaction and they
didn’t follow procedure,” he said Monday. “It’s a failure of
De Verteuil said he believes that natural oceanic
movements will restore the beach after a few months. But he and other
conservationists said they could not confidently gauge how the loss of
so many eggs and hatchlings could affect the region’s leatherback
Leatherbacks lay about 85 eggs at a time, but less than 1 percent survive to adulthood.
years, successful conservation efforts have benefited leatherbacks in
Trinidad, which outlawed the slaughter of the sea turtles in 1966. A
growing number of turtle advocates have helped protect the traditional
nesting grounds, which are an attraction for tourists in the twin-island
Caribbean republic off Venezuela’s coast.