THOUSANDS of leatherback hatchlings were crushed to death at the weekend as the Ministry of Works used excavators to redirect the Grande Riviere River, at the north east coast.
The Ministry had been called in when the river, running west, eroded most of the beach front, threatening the stability of several homes and hotels.
The community was horrified, though, when excavation work began Saturday without their knowledge on what is the most nest-intensive part of the beach.
Among those buildings under threat was the Mt Plaisir Estate Restaurant and Hotel, the most popular tourist accommodation during turtle nesting season.
The Ministry was called in two weeks ago by hotel owner Piero Guerrini.
The massacre that took place over the past two days was not the help that was expected.
"It is so unfortunate and there are so many mixed feelings," Guerrini said.
"This is a shock. On the one hand the erosion needed to be stopped but what has happened here is not right," he said.
Marc deVerteuil, of Papa Bois Conservation said the debacle could have been avoided with proper land zoning and co-ordination between relevant agencies.
Sherwin Reyz, a member of the Grand Riviere Environmental Organisation, spent yesterday salvaging those hatchlings that were still alive – and clearing the beach of hundreds of dead ones.
Brought to tears several times, Reyz contended that the river mouth could have been opened without that part of the beach being torn up.
"You think they had to do this?" Reyz said.
"This is the worst set of destruction I have ever seen by humans on turtles."
Reyz was among those in the community who began a rescue mission early yesterday and by evening had saved abut 500 hatchlings.
The babies were kept in a cool dugout area behind Mt Plaisir hotel, to be released last night.
Among them could be seen those who had been too badly injured and would clearly not make it.
On the beach, hundreds of eggs could be seen, some crushed and some rolling in the surf. Here and there, hatchlings could be seen fighting for life, some still partially in the shell.
Excavation work went on all day in what is classed by conservationists as zone four of Grande Riviere, which is just over a kilometre long and is the third most prolific sea turtle nesting site in the world.
Len Peters, head of Turtle Village Trust, said while yesterday's toll was unfortunate, much of the nesting area had already been lost to the river.
Peters said there was also sometimes a compromise to be made when animals and people share the same space. In this case, the welfare of the community had to be considered.
Peters said the weekend's tragedy should not have happened in the first place, since the river had started to swing west since December last year.
Repeated attempts to have the course redirected since then were futile, he said, and the Ministry waited too late to act.
"This intervention was necessary," Peters said.
"We would have lost more nesting space eventually. We didn't lose a lot of eggs, although this is an engineering disaster. At the very least, the EMA (Environmental Management Authority) should have been present to direct this operation."