FEARS MOUNTING: A water-filled trench remains following severe erosion last year of the Grande Riviere Beach by its errant river. Turtle conservators want the State to fill the trench and level parts of the beach before the sea turtle nesting season begins in March. —Photo: Marc de Verteuil (Papa Bois Conservation).

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Govt must fix erosion now

Conservators getting nervous as first leatherbacks sighted...

By Kim Boodram

WITH the first leatherback turtles already being sighted off Grande Riviere, fears are mounting that Government's decision to let nature take its course in repairing the eroded beach may lead to a disastrous nesting season for 2013.

Conservationists are nervous about what they feel is a dangerous wait-and-see stance taken by the Government, which has been advised that a lagoon formed on the beach by the meandering Grande Riviere River last June can be reclaimed by wave action in time for the March 1 nesting season of endangered sea turtles.

Residents, turtle protectors and tour operators said last week they do not believe that wave action will be strong enough to overcome a sand berm formed at the waterline, enclosing a "lagoon" of stagnant water to the right of the Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel.

While much of the beach has been restored and the embankment built by the Government to control the river is mostly flattened, the sand level remains low.

Government officials, however, have sworn off any remedial action involving heavy equipment, saying they will not allow another "fiasco" to occur on the protected shoreline.

Grande Riviere is one of the world's most intensive nesting sites for the turtles and is already besieged by illegal development on the beachfront that continues to encroach on nesting space.

The large marine turtles swarm the beach by the thousands during the March to September nesting season and are a huge tourist attraction.

In the jostle for places, some turtles will find themselves on the roadways and in the village.

The beach is protected during this time and visitors must acquire a permit before setting foot on the sand.

Last June, an international furore was raised when Government permitted the use of bulldozers and other heavy equipment to conduct earthworks on the beach's eastern end to correct the course of the Grande Riviere River.

The river had meandered, as elder residents said it did every 15 years or so, and had eroded much of the beach heading west, cutting off access to the sea for fishermen and threatening the stability of some buildings.

Hundreds of turtle eggs and hatchlings were destroyed during remedial works, and residents said the Government had been asked to intervene and re-direct the rogue river since 2011, prior to the start of the 2012 season.

At a stakeholder meeting at Grande Riviere in September last year, Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz and Minister in the Ministry of the Environment Ramona Ramdial said a plan would be implemented by November, 2012 to reclaim the beach, while long-term solutions were looked at.

Conservation groups and Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel proprietor Piero Guerrini said last week they are becoming nervous about the plan being followed by the State.

When the Sunday Express visited the beach last week, the lagoon had shrunk slightly and had moved away from the front of the hotel.

Guerrini, along with several residents who protect turtles and rely on the season for a living, said their experiences have shown them that the period for wave action of the scale needed to reclaim the beach has come and gone.

After 20 years on the beach, Guerrini said he does not believe the rough seas being predicted by the state and its agencies will appear.

"We are not convinced that this plan is going to work," Guerrini said.

"There are turtles being sighted already. I think we are cutting it too close. We think all the Government has to do it come in with the equipment now, before the season really starts, and push this berm down into the lagoon. Once that embankment is gone, the waves will be able to do their job."

Len Peters, head of Turtle Village Trust, said last Thursday he agreed with Guerrini.

Head of the Grande Riviere Environmental Organisation (GREO) Sherwin Ruiz said although he cringed at the thought of heavy equipment returning to the beach, he felt the Government should grade the berm before the season started.

GREO saved hundreds of hatchlings from the bulldozers.

But Minister in the Ministry of the Environment Ramona Ramdial said there was no way heavy equipment was going to re-enter Grande Riviere Beach.

"The Government is not going to allow another incident to occur," Ramdial said in a telephone interview.

Ramdial said communication between the relevant authorities had been constant since last year and the advice coming from the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and the Meteorological Services is that intense wave action can be expected by the middle of this month.

At some point over the next two weeks, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) will pump out the water accumulated in the lagoon, which she acknowledged was mostly run-off from the roadways.

Ramdial said a leak in a WASA line contributed to the run-off but this had been repaired.

Once the water is out, it is expected that natural sand deposition will fill the lagoon and bring the beach back up to par by the start of the season.

Material will not be brought in from outside the beach to fill the hole, Ramdial said, as the IMA has advised that original composition of the sand should not be tampered with.

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