More than a turtle tragedy in Grande Riviere
In July this year thousands of leatherback turtle eggs and hatchlings were crushed when the Ministry of Works (Drainage Division) entered the beach with bulldozers to move waterlogged sand from key nesting areas. They said it was necessary to redirect a river which was eroding the beach and threatening a hotel used by tourists to watch the turtles. Environmentalists, however, say the Government workers botched the job and destroyed some 20,000 eggs. Starting this week CATHAL HEALY-SINGH, an environmental engineer with over 20 years of diverse experience is our guest columnist for a three-part series where he examines exactly where we went wrong.
On May 27 this year, reporter Kim Boodram reported from the Hyatt “EMA moves to save Turtles.” The EMA was launching its “Sea Turtle Support Network of Trinidad and Tobago” and hosting its first symposium “dedicated to these endangered animals.” It had been four months since the Grand Riviere River had backed up and turned direction along the upper shoreline, away from directly discharging to the sea. It was also two months into peak turtle nesting season which is usually April to July. The symposium was intended by the EMA to guide the designation process of sea turtles as an environmentally-sensitive species.
The EMA’s CEO informed attendees that “T&T holds the unique position of having nesting populations of five of the seven species of marine turtles occurring worldwide and has one of the largest nesting populations of leatherback turtles in the world, second only to Africa.” The symposium was also intended to “plan for the implementation of the Sea Turtle Recovery and Action Plan.” In July, less than two months later, Boodram, wrote “Turtle tragedy...thousands of hatchlings crushed to death.”
According to the article, thousands of leatherback hatchlings were crushed to death on the weekend as the Ministry of Works entered the beach and used excavators to arrest the longshore erosion by cutting the bank to allow Grande Riviere to discharge to the sea. After the disaster, Mr Ruiz, a resident of Grand Riviere and member of the Grande Riviere Environmental Organisation, declared “the works were unnecessary to the extent performed and a new mouth for the river could have been created with less loss of turtle life.”
Tearfully, he said: “this is the worst set of destruction I have ever seen by humans on turtles.” Visiting Grande Riviere after the tragedy, the CEO of the EMA, Dr Joth Singh, sought to allay the matter insisting “there was extensive co-ordination between agencies and divisions throughout the entire remedial exercise. In essence the action which was taken by the Ministry was informed by local conservation experts and fishermen in the Grand Riviere area and our technical experts.” The EMA’s responsibility for turtle conservation in Trinidad & Tobago is “Coordinating Stakeholders” and spearheading the formation of the “Sea Turtle Support Network” as well as “Education and Public Awareness.”
Dr Singh assured the national community that “the impact is not as severe as has been claimed and circumstances were created where the authorities were made to appear to have been negligent.” He however conceded that “the operation did result in an impact that was not expected” and that “the instructions to the excavator operators were not closely followed.” Posted on the EMA’s Web site is a ‘reverse spin’ on what happened—it was not actually a tragedy at all, while acknowledging that the “Entire Grand Riviere Beach was under threat from coastal erosion” as a result of their intervention but, “Over a million turtles saved.”
This posting by the EMA demonstrates both breathtaking “spin” and a failure to understand that an endangered animal is only as protected as its habitat is protected. This is why the EMA could be hosting a symposium at the Hyatt in Port-of-Spain, oblivious, even after three months, of the growing threat to Grand Riviere Beach—the sensitive and dynamic habitat and nesting place of endangered leatherback turtles.
This is, in fact the underlying tragedy. Residents say they began calling for help three to four weeks before the Ministry of Work’s excavators arrived. But spin and aspersions cast upon the excavator operators were “small ting” to what happened next.
The tragedy had in hours gone viral on the Internet. The credibility of longstanding Grande Riviere eco-hotelier, Piero Guerrini was questioned, as was that of the EMA itself and indeed of the national character of Trinidadians towards endangered species.
Cathal Healy-Singh is an environmental engineer with over 20 of diverse experience.
He has worked in a consulting company in the USA closing hazardous waste landfills. In Barbados, he worked on water and sewage treatment projects, on integrated solid waste management plans and on generating renewable energy from wastes. He has also managed community-based environmental projects throughout the Caricom Region. Cathal is presently a Director on the Board of the National Gas Company of Trinidad & Tobago.
If you wish to contribute to this guest series send in your ideas to Ira Mathur at [email protected] or
[email protected] and join our facebook page on http://www.facebook.com/cleaningupthemess?ref=ts