Beach Workers Crush Thousands of Endangered Turtles

leatherback turtle photo© Rod Mast

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago has long been favorite visiting spot for a host of marine life, like endangered leatherback turtles, which arrive in droves each year to lay their eggs in the islands' sandy coastline. But, following a disturbing incident recently in which thousands of turtles were mistakenly crushed by heavy machinery, the already imperiled species there has suffered yet another major setback.

Last week, government workers were bulldozing on Grand Riviere beach to redirect an estuary nearby to a popular nesting site for leatherback turtles when tragedy struck. According to witnesses, the heavy machine operators appeared to mistakenly dig along too large a swath of the beach, causing them to stir up and crush as many as 20 thousand turtle eggs that were only days away from hatching.

"For some reason they dug up the far end of the beach, absolutely encroaching into the good nesting areas," said Piero Guerrini, owner of a hotel at beach where hundreds of tourists had gathered to await the baby turtles hatching en masse. "This could have been avoided with a much wiser approach. But it was done too late and it was done in the wrong way."

While estimates vary as to the number of turtles killed in the incident, in any case it stands as a unfortunate setback for a species in decline. Conservationists say that only around 43,000 breeding female leatherbacks remain today -- down from 115,000 in 1980.

Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz has since described the mass killings as a "disaster", for both the endangered species and the island nation's eco-tourism industry.

“Approximately 80 per cent of all leatherbacks in the world nest in Trinidad and Tobago so that therefore it is indeed a haven for the leatherback turtle. Therefore we need to provide a safe haven for the leatherback turtle.”

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