What began as an attempt to curb erosion by way of preserving leatherback-turtle nesting sites along a river ended up bulldozing an existing nesting area, crushing hundreds of hatchlings and about 20,000 eggs.
Government workers at a beach in the popular tourist beach of Grande Riviere, Trinidad, were trying to reroute a river that was “endangering a major nesting habitat for leatherback turtles and encroaching on local hotels and businesses,” according to CNN. Although conservationists were able to save some of the baby turtles, the groups told CNN that something must be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
The government Environmental Management Authority said in a statement that although it knew the turtles had been killed while the river’s course was changed, leaving it alone would have been worse.
“If left on its current course, the existing route of the river would have caused more erosion and loss to previous nesting sites,” the EMA said, according to CNN. “The EMA believes that this emergency action will have some positive impact on the overall population of leatherback turtles nestling in Grande Riviere.”
This and other beaches on the northern coast of Trinidad is a prime nesting place for the endangered leatherback turtle. The reptiles return to the beach they were born on to lay their eggs. The Grand Riviere, a mile-long stretch of beach, is a leading nesting site, BBC News said, where as many as 3,500 females deposit an estimated 200,000 eggs a year.
The Trinidadian government expressed regret at the killings, according to BBC News.
“We truly regret the slaughter of these magnificent sea creatures,” Shamshad Mohammed, drainage director for Trinidad and Tobago’s Environment Water Resources Ministry, told the BBC.
Vultures and stray dogs devoured the hapless hatchlings once their shells had been crushed, an environmentalist told the BBC.
“They had a very good meal. I was near tears,” said Sherwin Reyz of the Grande Riviere Environmental Organisation to the network.