'Power of nature': Head of Turtle Village Trust Len Peters stands on newly restored Grande Riviere Beach on Monday. Following intense wave action, the beach is now ready to welcome its annual visitors of thousands of endangered sea turtles when the season begins in March. —Photo courtesy Marc de Verteuil, Papa Bois Conservation

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Waves restore Grande Riviere

By Kim Boodram

WHILE the solution eluded humans months after the catastrophic erosion of Grande Riviere Beach, Nature herself on Monday restored the beach within hours—and weeks away from the start of the sea turtle nesting season.

Powerful wave action, predicted by the Meteorological Office, dumped enough sand on the beach to restore it to its previous level and also filled in a large "lagoon" in front of the Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel—a legacy of last year's river erosion on the beach.

Last July's beach destruction was an event that rippled around the world, after the Grande Riviere River wandered west of its course and ate away most of the beachfront during nesting season.

In an attempt to restore the beach, the State authorised the use of heavy machinery that excavated hundreds of nests, destroying hundreds or more hatchlings of endangered sea turtles, including the critically endangered leatherback.

The massacre caught the attention of conservationists and animal-lovers worldwide, drawing huge criticism for what was seen as a lack of foresight and a clear violation of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), of which this country is a signatory.

Residents said then they had pleaded with the authorities, for months before the season, to rein in the river.

Up to last week, residents and conservationists were worried of a repeat disaster due to a decision by the Ministry of the Environment to wait for rough seas predicted by the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Services, the Institute of Marine Affairs and the Environmental Management Authority.

These high swells were being counted on the restore the beach naturally—at no cost to the State and without any further risk of violating the beach with man-made machinery.

Up to last week, the large lagoon was filled with stagnant water and showed no signs of disappearing.

Residents called for the ministry to use bulldozers before the official start of the season on March 1 to grade the beach and lower a berm formed on part of the lagoon's frontline by the sea.

The Express was present on Monday to witness, first-hand, massive waves that deposited sand all along the beach, evening it off and filling in the lagoon.

Minister in the Ministry of the Environment Ramona Ramdial on Tuesday said the ministry was pleased with the results of its decision to wait for nature to take its course.

"The ministry will continue to be guided by exact science," Ramdial said.

"There was no need to bring heavy equipment onto the beach."

Ramdial said a long-term plan will be implemented to prevent another cycle of erosion by the river.

A drainage plan for the community is also being planned, she said, as much of the water in the lagoon was domestic run-off that reached the beachfront via the roadway.

While it did much good, Tuesday's intense wave action also caused minor damage to some beachfront properties, including the Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel and Restaurant, which had been slightly damaged by last year's erosion.

The ground floor of the hotel was flooded through, ruining some furniture and appliances and leaving sand and debris—including some of last season's rotten eggs—all over the floor.

Proprietor Piero Guerrini said, however, it was a small price to pay for the restoration of the beach. "The beach is now perfect for the turtles," he said.

"We are happy that the ministry was right, and we thank them for their efforts and we are looking forward to a prolific season this year."

Residents worked with each other to clear out homes and businesses affected by those land-bound waves.

Head of Turtle Village Trust Len Peters said Monday's beach restoration was "a testament to the power of nature".

Grande Riviere Environmental Organisation's Sherwin Ruiz, who every year assists thousands of hatchlings into the sea, said: "We are pleased the sea has done its job and we congratulate the ministry."

This reporter experienced first-hand the power of the waves when one particularly forceful wall of water made its way onto the roadway.

The wave picked this reporter up in its swell, depositing its cargo a short way down the road.

It was this particular wave, said by witnesses to be the biggest of the evening, that caused most of the flooding into beachfront properties.

There was also slight damage to fishing facilities, homes and guest houses in Matelot.

What caused Monday's waves According to the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, the rough sea experienced along much of the North East and North Coast, and as far as Tobago, were generated by a frontal system in the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Lesser Antilles. These systems usually create swells that are projected downward to the south, with Trinidad and Tobago in that trajectory.

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