There was shocking news last week from Trinidad’s Grande Riviere beach, probably the densest nesting site for endangered leatherback sea turtles on the planet.
A long wet season had diverted a river’s flow, threatening turtle nesting areas as well as a hotel that hosts ecotourists who come to witness nesting season.
Government efforts to bulldoze the river back to its usual path, a move meant to save nesting areas, crushed sea turtle eggs and hatchlings. Early reports ranged to upwards of 20,000 small turtles lost, but revised numbers are much lower.
Communication, communication, communication
The incident is a classic case of inadequate planning and communication. All concerned agreed that redirecting the river was a good move. Unfortunately,
- the government delayed responding to the request for several months,
- the bulldozer arrived during peak nesting season when the sand was full of eggs and newly hatched leatherbacks, and
- no advance notice was given to the community that the bulldozer was finally on its way so a knowledgeable person could guide the driver.
No one wants to hear about marine life being killed, but the story could have been a lot worse. “Sea turtle conservationists around the world admire the people in Trinidad who have safeguarded nesting females and changed the way they fish to prevent turtle capture in nets,” says Marydele Donnelley, director of international policy for the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
“Today, leatherbacks are the basis of eco-tourism programs that support numerous coastal communities, she adds. “While the recent and avoidable loss of hatchlings and eggs is heart-breaking, the overall population remains healthy.”
What Can You Do?
Awareness and individual actions save sea turtles every day. If you’re planning to vacation at a beach where sea turtles nest, take a few precautions:
- Don’t drive on the beach. Day or night driving can
- crush eggs in nests,
- disturb nesting females,
- disorient emerging hatchlings, and
- kill young turtles attempting to reach the ocean. In addition, tire ruts slow their trip to the water, increasing vulnerability to predators like hungry birds.
- Keep your dog off the beach during nesting season to protect hatchlings and eggs.
- Turn off porch lights and draw the curtains. Artificial lights on and near the beach disorient baby sea turtles. Instead of going to the water, they wander inland where they often die of dehydration or get run over by cars.
- Don’t leave beach furniture or recreational equipment on the beach overnight. Beach chairs and kayaks can block or even entrap sea turtles.
- Plant umbrellas in sand near the water where eggs aren’t at risk.
- Pick up trash and sign up for Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup this September. Even small items like cups and food wrappers create obstacles that delay and entangle tiny hatchlings as they dash to the ocean. At sea, large and small turtles can become ensnared in debris or mistake trash for food.