It's about turtle safety, not PR
The Environmental Management Authority's attempt to spin the destruction of turtle eggs and hatchlings does not reflect positively on the Authority's commitment to conservation. The EMA's chief executive officer, Joth Singh, wasted no time trying to downplay the incident, saying that "only a few hundred hatchlings were unfortunately lost in the action". But whether a few hundred is a lot or a little depends on what proportion the number represents. Were the "few hundred" ten per cent of the total number of hatchlings or 50 per cent or 90 per cent?
Newly appointed Environment Minister Ganga Singh also attempted to put his own spin on the matter, saying in a media release that in the "efforts to halt the degradation of the area, some of the eggs and hatchlings have been negatively affected." When politicians start using euphemisms like "negatively affected", it usually indicates concern about the negative effects on their own image.
This misstep occurred because of remedial work that was carried out on the beach in an attempt to divert the Grande Riviere River, which had swung west and severely eroded the beach front. This threatened a number of buildings, including a hotel which, ironically, caters to guests who come to watch the leatherback turtles nesting.
Minister Singh in an interview with the Express insisted that "the impact has not been as severe as has been claimed and circumstances were created where the authorities were made to appear to have been negligent." Yet he also admitted that "things were not done in the best way", which at the very least means that some level of incompetence led to this decimation of an endangered species. And this, really, is the crux of the matter.
The deaths of any leatherback turtles are a significant loss. Conservationists estimate that about 6,000 turtles nest in Trinidad and Tobago every year and each turtle lays about 100 eggs. So the EMA's "few hundred" hatchlings in one site represents a notable proportion of turtles which might have been born and survived. The decline in the species started about 30 years ago, but up to now the authorities have not properly educated ordinary citizens about the need to preserve and protect them. Just a few weeks ago, pictures on social networking sites showed some ignorant individuals standing on the backs of the turtles, clearly unaware that they were doing anything wrong.
Trinidad is the second largest nesting site in the world for these animals. Our island and its people therefore shoulder a global responsibility when it comes to them. It is a responsibility which this country has failed to fulfil, and the people in authority should worry more about this, than about their PR.