The new reserve makes up 66 percent of what is known as the Northeast Ecological Corridor, located just north of El Yunque rainforest, a popular tourist attraction, and is also considered one of the prime nesting sites for the endangered leatherback turtle.
Under pressure from environmental activists, Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Fortuno last week changed his mind and signed a law protecting these 1,950 acres of state-owned land from large-scale development. This reverses his decision of several years ago when he revoked the land’s protected status to attract developers and boost the island’s sluggish economy. It’s great to hear that the governor has now made the right eco-decision.
Things are looking up for leatherback turtles: last January, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) designated nearly 42,000 square miles of ocean along the West Coast of the U.S. as critical habitat for the Pacific leatherback turtle.
Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtles, and the largest living reptiles, in the world, sometimes measuring 9 feet long and weighing as much as three refrigerators, or more than 1,200 pounds. Their life span is not fully known, but they are believed to live at least 40 years and possibly as long as 100 years.
The leatherback is the only sea turtle that lacks a hard, bony shell. A leatherback’s top shell (carapace) is approximately 1.5 inches thick and consists of leathery, oil-saturated connective tissue overlaying loosely interlocking dermal bones.
Female leatherbacks lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs on sandy, tropical beaches. Females nest several times during a nesting season, typically at 8-12 day intervals. After 60-65 days, leatherback hatchlings emerge from the nest with white striping along the ridges of their backs and on the margins of the flippers.