Fix our turtle haven properly
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, July 29 2012
The recent large-scale destruction of hundreds of leatherback turtle hatchlings at Grande Riviere, a treasured nesting site along the north-east coast of Trinidad and Tobago, threw the small, picturesque community into the international spotlight.
And while the jury may still be out on the legitimacy of the strategies used by employees of the Ministry of Water and the Environment’s Drainage Division to divert the Grande Riviere River, which flows alongside several beachfront properties, the activities of July 7 invariably pointed to two crucial environmental issues: land erosion (particularly as it relates to the protection of homes and businesses), as well as the pressing need to devise a sustainable plan to preserve leatherback turtles, an endangered species.
Last week, Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz, who was part of a high-powered ministerial team who toured the Grande Riviere beachfront after the incident, again visited the area and was pleased to learn that the leatherbacks have since returned to the devastated site to lay their eggs.
“I wanted to see, in particular, what the beach would have done on its own and we were very pleased with what we saw where the beach was re-inventing itself. Again, Mother Nature was at work where a lot of the sand had returned and there were signs that a turtle had actually nested the night before right in front of the area that was cause for concern,” Cadiz said of the tour.
Cadiz told Sunday Newsday he had also spoken to members of turtle-related organisations in the area, who told him they continued to see hatchlings at the site despite the damage that had been done to the nesting area by the bulldozers.
“So it means that a lot of the nesting area had been saved. Therefore, at the end of the day, what was done, it served its purpose,” he contended.
Cadiz said, however, that a comprehensive study of the beach must be undertaken to determine the way forward.
He said, “The off season — the turtle season — runs now until August and in a couple months’ time, by about October or November, the sea conditions start to change and we start getting very heavy wave action coming into the area. So I think a study of the beach will have to be done in order that we do not suffer anything like this again.”
Residents, many of whom had been vociferous in their condemnation of the ghastly episode which they insisted must never be allowed to happen again, also were delighted that the turtles had resumed nesting activity.
One villager, Roosevelt Ruiz, said, however, he could not understand the fuss over the recent destruction of the baby leatherback turtles, since hatchlings were being destroyed several years before with the widening of the mouth of the Grande Riviere River.
“They only watching what the tractor (which killed the hatchlings) do, but what about the destruction of the turtles which started in 2007,” he said during a recent visit to the area by Sunday Newsday.
Ruiz, a gardener, lives alone in a makeshift concrete structure on a two-and-a-half acre plot of land sandwiched between the river and the beach, a short distance away from the Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel, which has fallen victim to land erosion.
In periods of heavy rainfall, Ruiz said the river usually flows unencumbered into his property, causing much destruction to crops and personal items.
“I have lost a lot of crops due to the river, but nobody came to see me when the ministers came up here recently,” he said.
Ruiz, who had developed a portion of his property for tourists, said he had also lost visitors because of the flooding from the river.
“People have been skeptical to come but everybody know I have the best legs coming out of here every Easter,” he said.
Ruiz, who has written several letters to the Drainage Division of the Ministry of Works, Forestry Division and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) about the issue since 2010, said the problem was likely to get worse with the recent excavation exercise.
“My appeal is for the Government to come and finish the work,” he said.
When an excavator operator began moving sand from the beach in an area close to his property, to create an embankment to prevent the flow of the river alongside several beachfront properties which have for years been threatened by land erosion, Ruiz said he had planned to stage a one- man protest because of the disastrous impact the action was likely to have on the nesting site of the leatherbacks.
The dreadlocked Ruiz said, “I was wondering how you could dig up here in the height of the turtle season. Look at the penalties if I should pick up one turtle and hand it to somebody or let us say play raisin’ (football) with one egg, then you know what the magistrate in (Sangre) Grande doing for that if they hold me.
“So how you could come and send people in authority to do this. The only people see what go on here was me and the tractor man. Nobody else was not there because I waiting to see what they doing. In the confusion, the tractor man make a dig and I say, ‘Whey’ when I see the number of baby turtles.”
According to Ruiz, the excavator operator was also stunned by the discovery and wondered whether the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) had been apprised about the project.
“Boy, you was just watching the little turtles wrapping up in the tractor blade,” he said, adding he had tried to save as many baby turtles as he could.