Environmental Management Authority CEO, Dr Joth Singh, said yesterday only a few hundred sea turtle eggs and hatchlings were lost during remedial works to halt massive erosion of the beach front by the Grande Riviere River.
Singh, who visited the site yesterday, said the loss of turtle hatchlings was not as grave as had been expressed by some parties. This tally was backed up, he said, by Len Peters, head of the Grande Riviere Nature Tour Guiding Association.
"Mr Peters indicated that contrary to reports, only a few hundred hatchlings were unfortunately lost in the action," Singh said in a statement issued late yesterday.
The turtle kill took place on Saturday and Sunday, when excavators from the Drainage Division of the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure went onto the beach to divert the Grande Riviere River, which had swung west and severely eroded the beach front—threatening a number of buildings and washing away nesting grounds.
Grande Riviere is Trinidad's most nest-intensive beach during the laying season of sea turtles, including the critically endangered leatherback and is the third most prolific site in the world. The nesting season runs from May to September every year.
In May of this year, the EMA held a Sea Turtle Convention, to bring focus to the protection of these critically endangered marine animals. All turtles are regarded as critically endangered worldwide, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory.
Singh said the Ministry's intervention was necessary but could have been "done better".
The EMA has also contended that more nesting ground and possibly part of the beach-front community, would have been lost to the meandering river had the earthworks not been done.
Others in the community, including members of the Grande Riviere Environmental Organisation, disagreed, saying 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.
The EMA was among those consulted, he said, as were other stakeholders, including the Wildlife and Forestry Division and members of the conservation groups in Grande Riviere.
Several beachfront homes and businesses were under threat.
The Mt Plaisir Estate Restaurant and Hotel, the most popular overnight accommodation for turtle-watching tourists, had had the ground beneath its porch eroded away by the river.
"The intervention was imperative," Singh said, speaking to Express via telephone during the site visit.
"If not, there would have been significant impact on the nesting areas left and the season is still ongoing. The fact is 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."
Singh said, however, that the operation did result in an impact that was not expected.
"Things were not done in the best way," he said. "The instructions to the excavator operators were not closely followed. Some of the impact we are seeing was not anticipated."
Singh said the authorities may have also waited too long to move, since the river had started to show a severe meander to the west since December last year.
When the Express visited the beach last Sunday, two excavators were at work recreating the river's banks, the stench of death already high in the afternoon heat.
Underfoot, hundreds of eggs lay in various states of destruction, some with their nearly-ready baby turtles visible. Mature hatchlings were also scattered around the sand and surf, dead and dying, being picked up by hungry dogs and eager vultures.
The beach was quieter yesterday, with some members of the community, joined by those tourists who were present for the debacle, continuing the weekend's work of cleaning up and looking for those hatchlings that could be salvaged.
Sherwin Reyz of the Grande Riviere Environmental Organisation maintained yesterday that the dredging up of all of Zone Four, the category given to that part of the beach, was unnecessary.
"I am saying that this is the part of the beach of the most nests and that thousands of eggs and hatchlings were lost," Reyz said.
"We all agree that the work had to be done but we believe they did not have to dig up the whole beach."