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. Tom

    Before we go pointing fingers over there come to FL & see what these ocean front homes owners are doing. The seawalls are basically killing millions of turtles a year. The beach erosions is to the point that in most places @ high tide there is no beach. The turtles are forced to lay their eggs on stretches of sand that will be under water come the first fall high tide. Just go look @ google maps and see how many ocean front mansions have beach front sea walls on nesting areas in South FL. Millions of nested are being washed out each year because of this right here in the US.

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

      Tom:

      Nice to see someone gets it. This is about more than turtles (that most people have a fondness for, especially if they've seen them up close or swam with them). It's about rising sea levels.

      Kudos,
      Hope

      July 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. fdgdf

    Poor turtles. Sounds about like the USA.. just likes to kill everything.

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

      Too bad it was Trinidad you meatstick.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arick

      I wasn't aware that Trinidad was in the U.S. Silly me.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yeah Right

      clearly the person posting states it "sounds about like" the US, and doesn't in fact state it IS the US. Get some reading comprehension before you post your vapid attacks.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Smarter than ewe

    Seems to me they could have put up barriers to stop the turtles from crossing? Maybe even paid some locals to move the eggs. I'm guessing saving the tourist hotels to Trinidad is slightly more important than the one turtle that would have eventually made it to adulthood. Maybe.
    Now excuse me while I eat my steak wearing my alligator boots. <- sarcasm people.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ninjaluvr

      Read Tom's post, in Florida the barriers are already up, helping the turtles stay out of harms way. Millions of them, from what Tom said.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bunsen Honeydew

    This is really awful to think about but if only 1 in 1000 survives anyway – is it that much worse to get crushed by an excavator than (say) swallowed alive by some predator and then slowly dissolved in digestive acids? Nature is cruel...

    July 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ninjaluvr

    That poor turtle in the picture has sand in its eye and the photographer just snaps away with the pictures instead of helping this poor baby get the sand out of its eye. barbaric!

    July 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • cpc65

      What? I'll assume you were just being sarcastic there. If you were serious, they have a membrane that protects their eyes. Critters that are wet and crawl across the beach are bound to get sand stuck all over them.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • cocoloco

      Look at the picture well again: It's not sand, but turtle eggs!!!!!!!

      Turtles need sand to survive so they carry it with them wherever they go and wherever it fits, including the eyes. Just like the relationship between lice and you and me!

      Have a great day!

      July 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Everseeker

      Ninjaluvr, the Turtles have clear secondary eyelids, Pecificly for the sand and such... it is not suffering or any such thing.
      Actually, it just dug itself out of about a 1' deep pit of sand... most of which has already fallen away. Sometimes, right after emerging, they look like little balls of sand and slime (with fippers)

      July 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mickey1313

    At all beach fronts, when you build massive structures, you end natural beach build up. And it slaughters nature

    July 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. reasonablebe

    And what makes this senseless destruction even sadder is the homes and hotel will likely be victim to the erosion anyway, Erosion and nature cannot be controlled or stopped by human will. Check out past attempts– other than the damming and diking in places like the Netherlands– but that's a whole different type of project than this type was. In NC, the houses and lighthouse too close to the erosion were moved inland. So why did they destroy all these turtles?

    July 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MLF

    Ignorant, uncaring...the list of adjectives could go on forever. How can we expect humans to care for other species - look at what we do to each other. I don't know what the environmental regulatory protections are in Trinidad, but this is outrageous and immoral. I tried to call the Ministry of Public Works, but no one answers the phone.

    I agree that we are equally guilty in the US. We just spent one week on Islamorada in the Keys. A worker spent all day raking the sand with a grader at the resort we visited. This was so the tourists and guests at our resort could benefit. Yet, we walked 300 yards along the same beachfront property owned by the resort and found a crushed leatherback. The maintenance man told us she (the turtle) came up to lay her eggs and the grader ground her up. In this same cove with the carcass was a mountain of plastic trash. This was the most trash filled tourist location I have ever visited. The entire Keys had plastic bottles, trash, garbage everywhere. NO recycling programs or bins. The staff where we stayed had never heard of recycling on Islamorada. The only places where environmental concerns were evident were the parks (federal and state), but people threw their trash everywhere in the parks, too, without regard for the wildlife.

    15 of us went to The Keys for a family event. We wanted to see the beauty firsthand. What we saw and hated was an environment rapidly being degraded in support of beachfront living and tourists. This part of the country will never get another tourist dollar from us until it cleans up its act. We traveled from three states and reached a mutual agreement that this part of Florida is quickly being despoiled and no one in charge seems to care.

    As unhappy as we may be about the carnage in the Caribbean, it happens with regularity right here.

    BTW – we took photos and recorded the GPS location of the trash mound and the dead leatherback in Florida. This will all be shared with appropriate agencies when we return to our home office.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin in FL

      I would love to see your pics to post on our sea turtle facepook page.. Find us at SeaTurtleOP on facebook or online. Sea Turtle Oversight Protection – Broward County FL

      July 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • s9post

      So 15 of your family went to see the beauty. Take that times oh 100s and 1000s of tourist each year and guess what? There is a price to be paid.

      July 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jesse

    I wish that was the rate of disgusting humans living until adulthood!

    July 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. cpc65

    So it's basically, keep things looking nice for the tourists at the expense of the indigenous wildlife. If enough people stop making reservations at the resorts in this area for about a year or two, they'll feel enough of a pinch to think these things through a little more carefully in the future.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AmericanSam

    Horrible. We have to do better to protect the natural world.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Justin in FL

    How can ONE SPECIES cause so much damage to it's host? The only other organisms to compare to humans are viruses. Can you think of any others? If a small fraction of the mess and destruction we cause was from any other species but our own, we would all be calling ORKIN to have the planet fumigated while we go on vacation to Mars. :/

    July 10, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. andyvon

    All these 'endangered species' are ultimately doomed. In 200 years time they'll all be gone.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cpc65

    The local restaurants are having a special; turtle soup. No connection to this article though.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. authorsnote

    I live in Costa Rica most of the year, and there is an annual green sea turtle release on the beach near our town. There is a sanctuary where a portion of the turtle eggs are kept in hatcheries away from thieves, dogs, and machinery until they are ready. What happened in Trinidad is reprehensible because a simple, inexpensive program could have prevented it.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • CosmicC

      Inexpensive? Try money-making. If they focus on protecting the turtle nesting sites and plan appropriately they can draw eco-tourists.

      July 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • don

      i love turtle soup

      July 10, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whatever

      Nice job! DO SOME RESEARCH before we start tearing up the ground...this makes me so sick!!!

      July 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lorraine

      how horrible about the sea turtles...forget tourism in that area and leave nature alone–SOMEONE should have known this was a 'SACRED' area, I hope the company or people responsible are severely punished to the fullest extent of the law if they have such laws there... just horrific!!

      July 10, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
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