Sierra Club asks feds to protect PR coastal land
Publicado por el Puerto Rico Daily Sun el 23 de febrero de 2010
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Conservationists on Monday petitioned the federal government to protect an undisturbed swath of Puerto Rican coastline that is prime nesting ground for the endangered leatherback turtle — among the largest reptiles in the world.
The Sierra Club is urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to set aside a corridor of coastal land for the hulking turtles, which can grow to more than 6 (2 meters) and weigh almost 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms).
The 3,200-acre (1,300-hectare) stretch of land immediately north of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system, was protected by Puerto Rico’s last governor. But current Gov. Luis Fortuno has revoked the reserve in his drive to bring jobs and investment for the U.S. territory’s ailing economy.
“Removing the protection of Puerto Rico’s most important leatherback turtle nesting beaches is putting this species at risk. We are asking the Obama administration to take action to protect this critical habitat,” said Angel Sosa, head of the Sierra Club’s Puerto Rico chapter.
A spokesman for Puerto Rico’s planning board did not immediately answer an e-mail seeking comment. But board chief Hector Morales has previously said the government is working hard to create a balance between development and conserving natural resources.
Lilibeth Serrano, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Puerto Rico, said the U.S. agency will look into whether it should designate “critical habitat” for leatherbacks along the beaches — adding a layer of protection against any government action that might hurt the habitat.
Conservationists say the coastal land, dubbed the Northeast Ecological Corridor, is one of the last remaining U.S. leatherback nesting sites.
During nesting seasons, a female leatherback will lay up to 100 eggs on tropical beaches. When tiny hatchlings wiggle out of their sandy pit, they use moonlight to guide them into the sea. The species has existed almost unchanged for more than 100 million years.
“Protection of the Northeast Ecological Corridor represents an extraordinary opportunity to help keep the U.S. leatherback population from extinction,” said Luis Jorge River Herrera, environmental scientist and planner of the Initiative of Sustainable Development.
Conservation groups have battled for about a decade to protect the coastal Puerto Rican land from bulldozers that have turned vast stretches of the U.S. Caribbean island into commercial and residential developments.
Efforts to fight resort proposals in the area near the northeastern town of Fajardo have drawn such celebrities as actors Benicio Del Toro and Edward James Olmos and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.