"This can never happen again."
These were the words of Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz yesterday, as he stood on a portion of Grande Riviere beach that was excavated at the weekend, crushing a sea turtle nesting area and killing hundreds of hatchlings in the process.
The operation was carried out by the drainage division of the Ministry of Works to redirect the Grande Riviere river, which had changed course, severely eroding the beachfront. The erosion is threatening the stability of a number of homes and hotels, including the Mt Plaisir Estate restaurant and hotel, the top tourist accommodation for turtle-watching tourists during the annual March to August nesting season.
Cadiz said he understood the urgency of the situation but felt the lines of communication had not run clearly between the relevant agencies.
"Of course there could have been better coordination," Cadiz said, "we have to make sure this never happens again." Cadiz said the negative attention being given to Trinidad and Tobago over the killing of the baby turtles was unfortunate.
"Obviously a huge error was made here in trying to fix a problem that was a natural occurrence," he added.
Environment Minister Ganga Singh also visited the site yesterday but he stood by the Works Ministry's actions, saying their intervention was absolutely necessary.
While Singh apologised for the death of the turtle hatchlings, most of which were critically endangered leatherbacks, he said the works were not carried about arbitrarily but after proper consultation.
The best interest of the community had to be considered, he said.
Grande Riviere is one of the world's top nesting sites but local conservationists have argued that the area in question had not seen the high numbers of turtles usually recorded. They supported statements by chief executive officer of the Environmental Management Authority, Dr Joth Singh, that zone four of the beach, as that area has been classified, was not filled with viable nests.
This is contrary to what some community activists have said, placing the numbers much higher in terms of viable eggs and live hatchlings.
"The operation was not carried out in isolation of the proper information," Allan Bachan, CEO of Turtle Village Trust, said.
Dr Joth Singh said the action would ultimately save many more eggs and hatchlings, as the river would have washed away parts of the beach that were more nest intensive.