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05/09/2011

Endangered Leatherback Turtle One Step Closer to Protection

Brune Family with Leatherback
 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has published a preliminary finding moving the agency towards protecting the waters of Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor as critical habitat for the endangered leatherback sea turtle. The finding, which affirms that substantial science supports protecting the Corridor, is a vital first step in securing much needed Endangered Species Act protections for the sea turtles’ marine homes and breeding grounds.

The move comes just days after news revealing local government efforts to sell off public lands in the Corridor to private developers for hotel and luxury home construction, and a little over a year after the Corridor’s designation as a nature reserve was removed from the area by Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño.  The Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor which includes the Sierra Club and other environmental, community, fishermen, and local business groups had achieved the protection of the area in 2008.  The Coalition envisions the development of the area as an ecotourism destination complementary to El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest in US Forest Service jurisdiction, which is linked to the Corridor visually through three rivers and recreationally. 

The Northeast Ecological Corridor is one of the last remaining, and most important, U.S. nesting grounds for the critically endangered leatherback. Waters adjacent to the nesting beaches serve as breeding grounds for the world’s largest sea turtles, and provide pathways to and from the nesting sites. The Corridor’s beaches and waters grow more important to the turtles every year, as changes in climate alter the world’s oceans—washing away nesting beaches, shifting currents and raising temperatures which affect the gender of turtle hatchlings. In addition the Corridor shelters one of the few remaining undeveloped beaches with minimal light contamination remaining in Puerto Rico.  

The finding follows extensive work by the Sierra Club and the Coalition to protect the endangered leatherback turtle, including legal requests to both NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for special protections to guard the beaches and waters where these rare turtles nest. 

Photo: Brune family with a leatherback turtle in the Northeast Ecological Corridor

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