Thousands of endangered leatherback turtle hatchlings were killed over the weekend in an erosion-control project on a Trinidad beach, according to reports from the Caribbean island.
The work was done by the Trinidadian Ministry of Works after it got reports that erosion from the Grande Riviere river was threatening several homes and hotels. Excavators were used to try to redirect the river, according to a report from the Trinidad Express.
The beach where it took place is the world's third-most prolific nesting site for the endangered turtles, the Express reported.
"This is the worst set of destruction I have ever seen by humans on turtles," the Express quoted Sherwin Reyz of the Grand Riviere Environmental Organization as saying.
Reyz and others were able to save about 500 of the hatchlings, but hundreds of crushed turtle eggs and animals were lying in the sand or floating in the surf off the beach, the report said.
Leatherback turtles, the only sea turtles with soft shells, are designated as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, according to National Geographic. The leatherback is also the largest turtle on the planet, with adults weighing a ton or more, and it has the largest range of the sea turtles, being found in tropical and temperate portions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.
But the turtles face survival threats, mostly from humans. Their eggs are harvested, and once in the water, they fall victim to fishing and boat strikes. Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings is estimated to make it to adulthood, according to National Geographic.