The video posted on facebook of disoriented leatherback hatchlings crossing the road at Manzanilla this season highlights a problem faced by the patrols on this beach for many years now. In fact, there are reports that this has been happening since twenty years ago, and responsible factors are known now to be the lights of passing vehicles, streetlights, lights from houses along the beachfront and even agricultural fires left burning in the night.
This is why the Manatee Conservation Trust which provides patrols for this area during the nesting season each year ensures that its personnel are sensitised to this issue. The Manatee Conservation Trust is a non-profit community-based organization based at Nariva, Manzanilla which in 1997 acquired the estate of the Huggins Trust Limited for conservation purposes. This estate which had been under the previous ownership for approximately 100 years comprises some 500 acres situated along the periphery of the Nariva Swamp and stretching well over 12 kilometres along the Manzanilla / Cocal stretch providing habitat for the endangered manatee and leatherback turtle.
The patrols to protect the leatherback turtle, hatchlings and eggs have been a constant presence for many years now during the nesting season and the Trust has been able to financially support them with the help of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago. The Forestry Division also provides some assistance, especially with guidance and supervision by authorised officers.
The number of hatchlings saved from certain death by incoming vehicles while on the roadway or from entanglement in the nearby bushes over the years is quite significant. Manatee Conservation Trust patrollers including the two persons featured in the video, Michael James and Jha Kisto have performed many rescues. Such rescues have also been of the adults as well and a few years ago, one such incident of a nesting female entangled in bushes across the road was highlighted on TV – fortunately for her, this was successful.
The openness of Manzanilla Beach which exposes turtles nesting there or hatchlings when they emerge to light which causes disorientation is one of the threats faced by this environmentally sensitive species. Manatee Conservation Trust is continuing its drive to minimize this threat by encouraging beachfront owners to use turtle friendly lighting or shields for outdoor lights. In the meantime, the Trust patrollers remain vigilant for disoriented hatchlings and adults to steer them back to safe waters.
Manatee Conservation Trust Release
2011 May 29.