20,000 Leatherback Sea Turtle Eggs Crushed in Trinidad
Bulldozers and heavy machinery crushed nearly 20,000 endangered leatherback sea turtle eggs and hatchlings on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad last weekend. Onlookers witnessed government workers excavate the remote beach with the intention to divert a river that was causing erosion to a nearby hotel and the nesting area itself. While the project had good intentions, it was executed in an extremely poor manner without any supervision from local turtle protection groups. Tourists who visited the island in hopes to see the baby turtles hatch were not expecting to see a massacre that day.
“Unfortunately the engineers in charge bulldozed a far greater portion of beach than necessary, and they did destroy many viable nests…they made a bad situation much worse” the Papa Bois Conservation group posted on its Facebook page. As bulldozers scooped up sand from the river’s edge and dumped it on the far side of the beach, eggs were being smashed by the thousands. The hatchlings had no chance to crawl away from the catastrophe. A video captured horrifying images of a baby sea turtle hanging onto life as his flipper slowly twitched amongst a pile of crushed eggs.
The quaint Grand Riviera Beach is home to thousands of leatherback sea turtles and is one of the densest nesting grounds for sea turtles in the world. Thousands of tourists flock to the tropical island to catch a glimpse of a hatchling peak its heads up from the sand or an adult leatherback crawling to the ocean’s edge.
The recent long rainy days attributed to the shifting river, which had already started to cause some erosion to the nests and nearby buildings. Many of the locals in Trinidad heavily depend on the tourism that the turtles attract to the area, “This could have been avoided with a much wiser approach. But it was done too late and it was done in the wrong way,” hotel owner Piero Guerrini, told the Associated Press.
Enormous leatherback sea turtles sometimes called “the last dinosaurs” can weigh up to a ton and measure 8 feet long. Female leatherbacks lay up to 100 eggs at a time and return to their nests on the beach to incubate the eggs but in this case, all they will find are empty shells and ravaged nests. In a normal situation, only one percent of eggs laid will survive making each one extremely precious. These long living creatures are declining faster than any other large animal in modern history. They face many threats in the wild from poachers to pollution, fishing boats and animal prey. They are also vital to mitigate jellyfish population- their main source of food in the ocean.
There is no way to immediately gauge how this disaster will affect the sea turtle populations but considering their critically endangered status, it looks pretty grim. The good news is that some baby turtles survived thanks to Sherwin Reyz, a member of the Grand Riviera Environmental Awareness Trust. Reyz managed to save 500 hatchlings on the beach that day and plans to release them to the ocean when it is safe.
This is certainly a lesson learned for government leaders of Trinidad. Local conservation groups plan to investigate how this was allowed to happen and ensure it doesn’t reoccur in the future.
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