July 10th, 2012
11:08 AM ET

Hundreds of turtle hatchlings crushed by excavators

[Updated at 2:59 p.m. ET] Hundreds of endangered leatherback turtle hatchlings and eggs were crushed over the weekend when attempts to stop erosion on a tourist beach in Trinidad went badly wrong, according to conservationists.

Workers were redirecting a river that was endangering a major nesting habitat for leatherback turtles and encroaching on local hotels and businesses in Grande Riviere, a popular tourist spot on the Caribbean island's north coast.

However, the workers severely damaged a nesting area with a bulldozer and an excavator, killing or harming hundreds of unhatched turtle eggs, the local conservation groups said.

A statement from the Environmental Management Authority acknowledged that hundreds of turtles had been killed during attempts to divert the river's course.

"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. "The EMA believes that this emergency action will have some positive impact on the overall population of leatherback turtles nestling in Grande Riviere."

A rescue attempt did manage to save some of the turtle hatchlings, but local conservationists say they're demanding a meeting with government officials to prevent the situation from happening again.

"It is important to investigate how this was allowed to happen and to find a solution so this won't reoccur in future," said Marc de Verteuil of Papa Bois Conservation, which works in Trinidad and Tobago.

De Verteuil said the beach had been suffering from erosion for weeks. He said the shoreline and river edge should have been stabilized, rather than the "very intrusive major earthworks" that ended up taking place.

The beach is a major nesting ground for leatherback turtles, listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Thousands of turtles return to the area where they were born to dig burrows in the sand and lay their eggs during nesting season, according to local conservation groups.

The area attracts thousands of tourists at the height of turtle nesting season each year to watch the baby turtles try to make it from their nests to the sea.

Laying as many as 100 eggs at a time, leatherback turtles - the only sea turtles with soft shells - face many survival threats, mostly from humans. The eggs are harvested, or once in the water, the hatchlings may fall victim to fishing and boat strikes. Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings is estimated to make it to adulthood, according to National Geographic.

Some studies have predicted the leatherback turtle could be extinct on the west coast of America within 10 to 15 years, said Peter Richardson of the Marine Conservation Society. However, populations in the Atlantic region seem to be doing better, with Trinidad reporting rising numbers in recent years, according to Richardson.

In West Africa, a team of international scientists has estimated that as many as 40,000 female turtles are nesting on beaches in Gabon, making it the world's largest known leatherback turtle population.

soundoff (278 Responses)
  1. Mike H

    Looks like they were concerned about the hotels and the safety of the people who will be visiting them. Damn them for looking out for the safety of humans over turtles.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Mattx

      Thats what we need on earth...more people to kill everything else off. Safety first! Right! Becareful of what you wish for cause it's happening right in front of you and you don't even see it. So stupid!

      July 10, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Frank Hayward

      There was nothing stated about the "safety" of anyone. The erosion could have been dealt with without killing all those turtles.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • DLDEUS

      Or...perhaps the humans could have been evacuated from the hotels and house. OR better yet, perhaps the humans shouldn't have built their homes/hotels so close to the coast line that they risked the threat of falling into the river. Nah...let's just blame it on the turtles for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They should've known better. Clearly our hotels and homes are more important than a species.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Mattx

      Safety first! Right! Becareful of what you wish for cause it's happening right in front of you and you don't even see it. So stupid!

      July 10, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • RoseMcB

      Reasonable, thinking people would have looked for alternatives, perhaps even temporary measures to shore up the buildings, evacuate people in danger, etc., until the hatching/ocean return are complete. It's only once a year and 90% die between hatching and making it to the ocean. Each species is important to ecological balance. Turtles keep jelly fish in check. Think about that the next time you take a dip in the ocean and get stung by a bunch.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • What?

      Too bad you weren't one of the turtles.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • jon

      i am sure their only concern was for profit.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  2. TN

    "Their eggs are harvested, and once in the water, they fall victim to fishing and boat strikes." And Sharks, Bigger Fish, Other Turtles. Why do we have to be labeled as the only threat.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • RoseMcB

      Because, as a species, we can eradicate them in huge swaths, all at once. Just "SQUISH" and thousands are dead in one fell swoop. That brings the annual survival rate down by huge numbers. Disgusting.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • jye75

      Because we are the only threat that is not naturally occurring to the turtles.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Roxy

      Sharks and other predators of the leatherback consume them to survive. This is nature. Humans killing them simply because we deem our selves to be superior is simply abhorent behavior. There is a huge difference. We have the choice and the ability to spare the lives of animals.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. Candy

    This is just horrible. Humans have no compasion anymore. They are out to do and get what they want and don't care about what or who they destroy in their path. Why wasn't someone in the envirement told about this before they starting excavating? Without animals and trees we as a race are doomed.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. Rascal Rabble

    second time high ranking military officials...walter reed...botch healthcare ...kabul medical funding need to cease...afgan patients shouldn't be abuse by withholding food and meds finance by us dollars...why didn't white house send veterans affairs officials to run this place...100 million dollar failure

    July 10, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. Name*flapper

    I guess beachfront property value outweighs an endangered animal anyday.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. onestarman

    Building a New Vault to Hide Romney Booty.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. tampamike

    Folks, get a clue this is not in the US its in trinidad. Maybe take up geography?

    July 10, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. JS

    7 billion people, 1000 turtles left – yup, save the humans Mike H, make the hotels safer and fully AC'd.

    You sir, are a genius.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jason

    Sorry for the turtles, but from what the last paragraph said, only 10% were expected to survive anyway...

    July 10, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  10. LTC

    Personally I would save the turtles before homes and hotels. Then again, humans are so selfish and self serving that replaceable structures always trump any creatures life....disgusting!

    July 10, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  11. Maggie McDuh

    So very sad. They were here first. They are our responsibility, and yet we treat them as an inconvenience. How can anyone be proud to be human these days?

    July 10, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  12. PEDO BEAR

    Philosophy 101:

    Which came first, the building permit or the turtle egg?

    My money is on the permit, but either way the excavator wins!

    July 10, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. Turtleguy

    Morons. I am disgusted with humanity yet again.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • PEDO BEAR

      I am guessing you haven't looked in the mirror lately, have you?

      July 10, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. the Tone!!

    so true... that is what needs to be put out there... amazing how people think in the world!!

    July 10, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Mitt Romney

      what is this think you mentioned "think"?

      July 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • B Obama

      I beleive "think" is what us politicians had the ability to do before we became politicians! Now to be able to "think" is out of the question. Carry on!!!!!

      July 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dionysus86

    NOT THE WEE TURTLES!

    July 10, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
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