The following letter was submitted by Molly R Gaskin, President of the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust
Since the early 1960s the Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalists' Club, Professor Peter Bacon of the University of the West Indies and, from the early 1970's to the 1990's, the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, researched, patrolled beaches, and protected the Leatherback turtle in Trinidad. At that time hundreds were slaughtered on a regular basis, but, because of the determined intervention and hard work of these organisations and followed later by the Forestry division and other young organisations, the slaughter was not only greatly diminished but was reversed with the outcome today of a substantial population of turtles returning to our shores, boosting tourism and sustainable livelihoods and bringing Trinidad & Tobago to the very positive attention of the rest of the world.
What occurred on the beach of Grande Riviere a few days ago is a crying shame, literally! Hundreds of young leatherback turtles slaughtered! One has only to do a little arithmetic. We are now in the month of July. Leatherbacks start coming onto our beaches to lay in early March and continue doing so in the hundreds until July/August. Six months, 184 days.
Secondly, not only do female leatherbacks come up every night; sometimes 20 to 30 per night, but, the same turtle returns 2 to 3 times for the nesting season. Thirdly, each turtle, each night will lay between 60 to 80 eggs. How many destroyed in one moment? Hundreds?
Grande Riviere is also one of the most dynamic and important nesting beaches, not just in Trinidad, but in our hemisphere.
Worse , all of this took place in a prohibited area.
True, the dredging was in response to a request from the Community and/or owners/occupiers of the beach properties, and, it was an emergency measure, but this measure was heavy-handed. The Community needs tourism; it is a great part of their business, their livelihoods, therefore, they need the turtles.
However their children's children will also need them, and where will the generation of returning turtles be? Dead!
Leatherback turtles usually return to the same beach from which they were born, to nest. Do we ever think long term?
In this same way, approximately every 5 to 6 years this very river has changed its course. This is not new, this has occurred in a cyclical manner for many years and the Community has complained about it before. Therefore, looking at the probability of this occurring again and supposing that the dredging should or must be done in that particular spot, why could we have not have been pro-active and have this exercise done in the 'quiet' months of last November/December, January 2012 before the turtle nesting season began! Will we ever learn?
This appalling event begs many questions. When the request came through from the Community or owners of the beach developments, was the Wildlife Section of the Forestry Division contacted? Was any consultation done between the relevant authorities? Could another area not have been found further upstream and cleared, bulldozed, to the sea to release the pressure of water instead of devastating that particular nesting area? Was any consideration given to an alternative at all?
Further, are we not also in contravention of our Conservation of Wildlife Act?
This issue must not be clouded and then lost. This is not a political issue. It is an environmental issue. It is an issue of, as usual, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
The entire world is looking on. What does all of this make of us? We sign so many treaties, go to so many conferences and we sign so many conventions, and at home, this is what we do to a creature that worldwide is accepted as an endangered species on a priority list. Leatherback turtles swam with the plesiosaurs 65 million years ago. Do we care? Words are really not adequate.