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A Landmark Lands Victory in Puerto Rico

Alejandro Garcia PadillaPuerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla holds the law protecting the Northeast Ecological Corridor after signing it on April 13 (Photo: Francisco Floyd Claudio-Morales)

Puerto Rico's Northeast Ecological Corridor, which contains nesting grounds for the endangered leatherback sea turtle (the world's largest turtle species), is at long last protected.

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed a law permanently protecting more than 3,000 acres of land critical to the turtles before 12,000 members of the public on April 13 at the celebration of this year's Leatherback Turtle Festival in Luquillo, a town adjacent to the Corridor. The area -- the second most important leatherback turtle nesting beach in U.S. jurisdiction -- had been threatened by overdevelopment from golf courses and megaresorts.

The Sierra Club's Puerto Rico chapter, along with the Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor, is already planning for the future of the new nature reserve. The group is working on making the Corridor a complementary destination to El Yunque National Forest (the only rain forest in Forest Service jurisdiction).

"The protection of the Corridor represents a victory in a 15-year battle, with ups and downs. We protected the area in 2008, and then the new governor eliminated protection for the Corridor.  Now the area is fully and finally protect by law," says Environmental Justice organizer Camilla Feibelman.

Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources will now be responsible for managing the area. The Puerto Rico chapter has worked hard to ensure that Puerto Rico's lush, green environment will sustain not only the leatherback turtle but also the other uncountable, diverse species that live there and the citizens who have the opportunity to enjoy this wild place for generations to come.   

This year's Leatherback Turtle Festival will be difficult to top, with such a victory for the community, the forest, and the animals that live there. After 15 years of on-the-ground organizing and action, though, the Puerto Rico chapter has earned a victory it can build on for years to come.

--Sierra Club Media Team Intern Kristen Elmore


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