Tourists flock to Trinidad’s northern coast to see little leatherback turtle hatchlings crawl from their sandy nests and make their way to the sea. While leatherbacks lay up to 85 eggs at a time, less than one percent survive into adulthood. Some 20,000 eggs and hatchlings were crushed by heavy machinery on a Trinidad beach this past Saturday due to — no other way to put it — human error.
Government work crews with bulldozers had been called in to redirect a river that was eroding the Grande Riviere beach, which is considered the densest nesting area in the world for leatherbacks. The river’s shifting had been threatening the foundation of the Mount Plaisir Estate hotel where many tourists stay and the hotel’s management had been urging that the government do something for months.
As Marc de Verteuil, of the Papa Bois Conservation organization, tells the Guardian, the work crews dug too large of a swatch from the beach and their “equipment was basically crushing a much, much larger part of the beach than made sense.” Thousands of leatherback eggs were either crushed or consumed by dogs and vultures. Says Sherwin Reyz, a member of the Grande Riviere Environmental Organisation, “They had a very good meal. I was near tears. It was a disgusting mess.” Reyz was among volunteers who helped to save hundreds of hatchlings.
The Trinidad government has yet to respond, says the BBC.
Tourists ended up seeing dozens of hatchlings dying before their eyes. Italian hotelier Piero Guerrini commented that “This really put a lot of bad images in people’s minds.”
The tragic death of so many thousands of leatherbacks from a clearly avoidable human blunder highlights how tourism poses severe threats to fragile ecosystems. Conservationists just issued a report about the excessive amounts of water tourists in developing countries use. Tourists often use 16 times as much water as local residents in the Gambia, Bali in Indonesia, the islands of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania, and Goa and Kerala in India, according to the report by the organization Tourism Concern.
Tourism brings in dollars but also, as the tragedy in Trinidad makes too clear, terrible damages.
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