While volunteers are working around the clock to safeguard 79 eggs that a turtle laid at Ġnejna on June 20, thousands of leatherback turtle eggs and hatchlings have been crushed by heavy machinery in Trinidad.

...as many as 20,000 eggs were crushed or consumed by scores of vultures and stray dogs...

The Trinidad beach where the catastrophe happened is widely regarded as the world’s densest nesting area for the biggest of all living sea turtles, conservationists said.

Government work crews with bulldozers were redirecting the Grand Riviere, a shifting river that was threatening a hotel where tourists from around the globe watch the huge endangered turtles lay their eggs.

But several conservationists who monitor turtle populations say the crews botched the job, digging up an unnecessarily large swath of the important nesting beach in the tiny coastal town on Trinidad’s northern shore.

Sherwin Reyz, a member of the Grand Riviere Environmental Organisation, estimated that as many as 20,000 eggs were crushed or consumed by the scores of vultures and stray dogs that descended upon the narrow strip of beach to eat the remains after the operation by the Ministry of Works.

“They had a very good meal. I was near tears,” said Mr Reyz, who helped save hundreds of hatchlings that were uninjured when they were dredged up by the heavy machinery.

“It was a disgusting mess.”

Leatherbacks, which can grow to more than two metres long, can weigh a ton and live up to 100 years, will return to lay their eggs on the beach of their birth.

The nesting ground of Grand Riviere is so popular with the globally endangered species that nest-digging females sometimes accidentally dig up others’ eggs.

Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy for the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, said avoidable losses of thousands of eggs and hatchlings is always a cause for concern but “this one event will not change the course of leatherback conservation in the Caribbean”.

The turtle that laid its eggs in Malta was a loggerhead turtle.

It was the first time in more than 50 years that a turtle had nested on a Maltese beach and in view of this extraordinary event, Ġnejna Bay has been declared an emergency conservation area for six months.

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