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. Blake

    I am devastated by this news. My most precious childhood memories were spent on this beach. The turtles are magnificant and a huge part of the ecosystem. It's unfortunate that more attention wasn't paid to this species survival which is intricately tied to tourism in this area.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ally

    OK, pushing aside the drama and sensationalism, this is what I'm getting from the article:

    An erosion control construction project was planned for a beach on Trinadad. The construction workers were told to do it and they started working. They were likely not even aware it was hatching time for the leatherbacks. Probably during the project some worker noticed all the crushed eggs and dead turtles; alerting a boss. The project was stopped and a few turtles were saved.

    The issue here is likely that they didn't have a full policy in place to check if the turtles were on the beach before starting the work. Trinidad wants to save the turtles too...it's a tourist industry for them. This mess will likely drive a better policy that will protect beach fronts from construction work pending a check with environmental.

    Some of you are painting pictures of hundreds of workers gleefully running over the nests... Just stop the drama. It's sad that this happened. But if Trinidad wasn't interested in fixing things this wouldn't have even been news.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blake

      Good points Ally. Unfortunately this has been a long standing issue. That is why the species is ENDANGERED!!!! Hatching times are well known...bottom line..real estate has more clout than ecosystems. Policies have been created and ignored....as a result they planned an excavation at a time that was important.

      July 10, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ally

      Sorry to hear that, Blake. I like to think there are some people who want to do the right thing. Hopefully this particular event getting world-wide attention will help to bring it up in importance for the country.

      I just hate reading comments that spout drama and generalizations from people that don't know the situation. The issues get so warped when that happens.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Obama Mama

      They have policy if you go to another site, they have been protecting them and the hotel actually has occupants that come for the turtles hatching. It was the zoning and excavators that did not notice the hatching timing.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • BermudaTriangle

      Ally...you're overly optimistic to a point of being extremely naive. That's like starting a road rebuilding project, burying a ton of cars in concrete rubble and saying...ooops, we didn't know there was people that used this road!

      July 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dot8

    I'd rather see uneducated humans become endangered species.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • 666

      u are #1 on that list!

      July 10, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. patNY

    I guess humans will not be satisfied until we destroy every living thing on this planet.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • 666

      that's our mission!

      July 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed Poko

      Too bad we can't squish the Islamic terrorist like that !!!

      July 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mark Weirauch

    Sooo, if I kill three times the bag limit of deer on my property because they are eating my crops and garden (and thereby threatening my income, and my personal supply of food) then, OH WELL ??? I assure you that's not how it works in my state.
    What penalty does, or will the TD of W face?

    July 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. turtlethis

    Turtle this...

    July 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brian

    Not to sound crass, since I happen to err on the side of wildlife preservation when reasonably possible, but the same article that talks about "thousands of hatchlings" being crushed also mentions that the expected survival rate of young leatherbacks is 1 in 1000. So, this means the excavators prevented, by National Geographic's own estimates, a few adult leatherbacks from existing.

    Sad, but not earth-shattering.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan in Texas

      Careful with using logic here. It is not apppreciated.

      July 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • meemee

      Oh you're right; humans never really have harmed any natural habitat or balance, because WE are nature! But that means that we are subject to its mechanisms of balance. Big bulldozer coming to your big beach soon....

      July 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. 666

    Thousands of turtle hatchlings down -- Thousands of turtle hatchlings to go!

    July 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. freshnewblog

    Turtle soup

    July 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Paul

    How about a little respect for our fellow earth inhabitants.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Love Rhino

    Union labor...I tell ya...

    July 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Umm

    Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings is estimated to make it to adulthood,

    Guess that's about 1 in 2,000 now...

    July 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jon samuel

    If 1 in 1,000 hatchlings even make it to adulthood and "hundreds" of hatchlings were destroyed this means they destroyed about 0.3 of a sea turtle. This is news?

    July 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. The Shredder

    Everything is working according to plan. Soon I'll have those turtles, and their little rat friend too!


    July 10, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Badly-Bent

    The effects won't be felt for 5 to 10 years when almost no turtles return to lay eggs.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
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