One of the planet’s most important nesting sites for the endangered leatherback sea turtle has just been protected!
Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Fortuno recently signed into law a measure that will protect almost 2,000 acres of the island’s coast from large-scale development.¬† The protected area, part of an area known as the Northeast Ecological Corridor, has been designated a nature reserve.
The Northeast Ecological Corridor includes such diverse landscapes as a bioluminescent lagoon, mangrove swamps, coral reefs, and dense tropical rainforest.¬† Besides the leatherback sea turtles, many other threatened or endangered species also make their homes in the corridor.¬† The West Indian manatee, the hawksbill sea turtle, and the snowy plover are just a few.
This new protection has been a long time coming.¬† In 2009, Governor Fortuno overturned his predecessor’s decision to protect the Northeast Ecological Corridor.¬† Fortuno wanted, instead, to open the land to large developers and their plans for mega-resorts and golf courses in the now-protected area.
But the Sierra Club, other environmental organizations, and Puerto Rican citizens said no.¬† Activists circulated petitions calling on Fortuno to protect the Northeast Ecological Corridor from development.¬† And both houses of Puerto Rico’s legislature voted unanimously to protect the leatherback sea turtle’s nesting grounds.¬† Ultimately, Fortuno had little choice but to go along with the people.
There has been even more good news for leatherback sea turtles in 2012.¬† In January, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration designated 42,000 square miles of ocean along the U.S. west coast as critical habitat for the Pacific leatherback sea turtle.
These protective designations are so needed!¬† The worldwide population of these giant reptiles has declined 95% since the 1980s, thanks to the destruction of natural habitat, changing ocean conditions, commercial fishing, and the theft of eggs.
A few facts about the leatherback sea turtle:
- It is the largest reptile in the world, and an individual can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds.
- The leatherback’s lifespan is not known, but scientists believe it lives at least 40 years and maybe as long as 100 years.
- Scientists believe the leatherback reaches sexual maturity at about 16 years.
- In the U.S., the leatherback nests on the beach from March to July.¬† A single female may produce several clutches of eggs in a season.
- Once hatched, baby leatherbacks make their way to the ocean.–April Moore