Infuriated environmentalists are demanding an investigation into how work crews in Trinidad ended up crushing turtle hatchlings and eggs while trying to reroute a river to protect turtle nests and a nearby hotel.
The Grande Riviere Beach is known as one of the most important nesting spots for the leatherback, the largest turtle in the world, woefully endangered by egg harvesters, pollution and accidental catches at sea. Tourists flock to the small town on the northern coast of Trinidad to see the turtles come ashore.
Turtle protection groups say they had long pushed for local officials to divert the nearby river to avoid washing away precious nesting grounds, but that the job was done so late and so sloppily that bulldozers ended up destroying hatchlings they were supposed to protect.
Conservationists told the Trinidad Express newspaper and the Associated Press that thousands of turtles had been killed by the botched job.
Those running the bulldozers “are not to blame, they are not trained to deal with turtles,” the Papa Bois Conservation group wrote on Facebook. Instead, the environmentalists slammed “those ‘higher up,’ not one of whom was on site to make sure the works were done with as little damage as possible.”
Trinidad environmental management officials countered that only a few hundred hatchlings were lost and argued that diverting the Grande Riviere River would still “have some positive impact” on the leatherback turtles by preventing more shore erosion.
In a statement, the Environmental Management Authority of Trinidad and Tobago complained that the situation had been sensationalized in the media.
But its chief executive, Joth Singh, later told the Express that "things were not done in the best way.” Bulldozer operators did not follow instructions during the weekend work, Singh told the newspaper.
One environmental activist painted a disturbing picture of vultures and stray dogs rushing onto the beach to eat the unearthed and injured hatchlings. “They had a very good meal. I was near tears,” Sherwin Reyz, a member of the Grande Riviere Environmental Organization, told the Associated Press.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A bulldozer operates next to destroyed leatherback turtle eggs and hatchlings on the banks of the Grande Riviere Beach in Trinidad. Credit: Associated Press / Papa Bois Conservation / Marc de Verteuil