BEFORE last Saturday, June 18, visitors to Las Cuevas did not know that marine turtles beached nightly during their nesting season.
They were unaware that along the western portion of the beach hatchlings emerged from the sands to make a dash for the waves. They had no idea that part of the beach was fraught with human-related dangers, it being away from the much-frequented bathing area near to the built facility.
Always on the alert to assist in matters affecting the overall health of the variety of environments in and around Trinidad and Tobago, the non-governmental organization Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) immediately responded to the outreach of the Las Cuevas Eco-friendly Association to host an urgent beach clean-up. It being turtle nesting season, FFOS did not hesitate to help coordinate and source sponsorship for the event.
As she distributed bags and directed volunteers in tandem with the Las Cuevas group, FFOS’ Kyrie Roopsingh commented on the necessity for the morning’s activities.
“When the Las Cuevas Eco-friendly Association reached out to us, our corporate secretary, Gary Aboud, was at Damien’s Bay, another turtle nesting site. He had collected over 40 jumbo-sized bags of trash composed of plastics and other non-biodegradable items.”
“Knowing the risks to our environmentally sensitive species in such an exposed habitat, he immediately got on board the clean-up initiative. We are engaged HADCO, the EMA I Care, and the Ministry of Tourism to assist at this crucial nesting time. We put out the call for volunteers to come to Las Cuevas to exercise their civic responsibility in protecting our marine species and their habitat.”
“It is all about individuals using the beach and showing a sense of pride and not footprints that negatively impact leaving the environment.”
Las Cuevas is a top-rated beach and one of the most popular, according to visitor records. It has been the recipient of Blue Flag certification from the Blue Flag International Jury, a globally recognized environmental award.
Among the criteria listed, the facility is responsible for ensuring that nearby habitats such as leatherback nesting sites are protected and managed sustainably.
Sadly, as evidenced by the amount of trash collected along the western area of the beach where marine turtles come in to nest, lack of maintenance has resulted in the need for voluntary beach clean-ups.
Included in the tons of trash collected above the high tide line were plastic bags, plastic bottles, glass bottles, Styrotex boxes, plates and cups, slippers and shoes, face masks, even a five-dollar bill.
Volunteers such as hiker and conservationist Ashelle Edwards worked among the fringing vegetation where most of the trash was stuck.
“It disturbs me greatly when we see a lot of trash on the hiking trails and, in like manner, our beaches. When I was invited to this beach clean-up, I knew that this was an important time for the nesting and hatching of the leatherbacks, and I was happy to be able to assist in providing a safe environment where the turtles could come in and nest and not choke on somebody’s plastic or get trapped in the stuff.”
“It is a really nice way of giving back to nature because she gives so much to us in her beauty and all her other resources.”
The Las Cuevas Eco-friendly Association is a community-based non-governmental organization working tirelessly to protect the integrity of the beach, with special focus on the western end where marine turtles nest. According to president of the association Arlene Williams, the site has been incubator for four of the five species of marine turtles that annually visit the North Coast.
“We monitor, tag and try to protect the turtles on a nightly basis from the first of March to the 31st of August annually. We have seen the leatherback, green, hawksbill and loggerhead.”
“It has been a busy season for the leatherbacks on this beach. Just last night, a total of 673 hatchlings went out to sea and we had 35 leatherbacks nesting on the beach. Before Covid-19 and the impacts of climate change, we did not have many turtles nesting during the month of March when our season usually starts. We used to get a mere ten to 12 turtles.”
“However, this March we recorded over 40 turtles coming in. Since then, we have had hatchlings coming out in the thousands every night. This explains how many turtles nested early. We had nesting leatherbacks here since February.”
“Given the amount of trash we are collecting here today, you can see how the survival of our turtles is being threatened by the thoughtlessness of people. When the hatchlings come out, they get stuck in the trash and are rendered vulnerable to predators such as crabs, corbeaux, hawks, dogs and even humans.”
At this point Williams revealed a scenario that most people are unaware of.
“When hatchlings encounter sand castles, these are major obstacles in their path towards the sea. Everybody likes to build sand castles and we do not have a problem with that. However, it is when the structure is left as is that it becomes an obstruction to the turtles. We usually ask persons when they come to the beach to flatten their castles after, because the hatchlings get stuck in them and the prolonged exposure to the hot sun kills them.”
The Las Cuevas Eco-friendly Association has been in existence since 2013 and, prior to that, did voluntary patrols out of love for their natural environment and the marine creatures that depend on it for the procreation of their species.
The organization has been making requests for funding but so far has not been successful. Their track record speaks volumes for their dedicated voluntary work in preserving the status of this internationally recognised marine habitat. Funding is necessary and key to the success of such efforts.
Though the Forestry Division had assisted them in their patrols in the past, the members of the organization still have not been officially appointed as honorary game wardens though applications were submitted.
Yet, they selflessly continue to protect our environmentally sensitive species in a vulnerable area.