New Law Protects Leatherback Turtle Nesting Ground In Puerto Rico

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

The governor of Puerto Rico has signed a new law protecting an area of land along the northeastern coast of the island — a region known as a major nesting site for the world´s largest turtle species, the leatherback.

The area is known as the Northeast Ecological Corridor, and according to the Associated Press (AP), it “covers more than 1,200 hectares of lush vegetation and pristine beaches that are a nesting site for the federally endangered leatherback turtle.”

The 13-mile long region is also home to “a popular bioluminescent bay featuring microorganisms that emit a blue glow in the dark when agitated,” the wire service said. Developers had long sought to build hotels, luxury houses and golf courses there, but their plans met with opposition from environmental activists and celebrities.

“Last August thousands of leatherback eggs and hatchlings were crushed by bulldozers moving waterlogged sand from key nesting areas,” according to BBC News.

They added that the Corridor, which is home to “lush vegetation and pristine beaches” — not to mention over 860 different types of flora and fauna (50 of which are rare, endemic or threatened species) — will now likely become a center for eco-tourism.

“In the high season, female leatherback turtles lay eggs in more than 400 nests they carve out on the Northeast Ecological Corridor´s protected beaches, where waves help push the 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) animals out of the water,” the AP said.

However, they will still have to purchase private land in order to complete the corridor, Camilla Feibelman of the local branch of the Sierra Club told the news organization. Approximately 35 percent of the designated land is privately owned, she explained.

“The region has long been a point of contention among developers, government officials and environmentalists,” the AP said. Former Puerto Rican governor Anibal Acevedo Vila initially moved to pass regulations protecting the area several years ago, but the project was rejected by senators.

“Acevedo issued an executive order in 2007 to protect the land, declaring it off-limits to all development except for small, eco-friendly projects,” the wire service added. He was later defeated by former governor Luis Fortuno, who countered Acevedo´s executive order with one of his own, allowing large-scale development on a portion of the land.

Fortuno´s projects had the support of local officials who had hoped to use development in the area to help the local economy and add new jobs to the region. Over the past few years, developers have submitted plans for the construction of a pair of hotels, four golf courses, and thousands of luxury homes, the AP explained, but none of the projects ever obtained permits.

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