Leatherback Turtles Make a Comeback on Puerto Rico’s Beaches

Recent statistics from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources’ Sea Turtle Program reveal that by the end of the third week in June more than 1,700 leatherback turtle nests had been counted on the beaches of Puerto Rico, and with another two months of the breeding season still ahead, this number is very likely to increase. Considering that during 2013 a total of 1,368 nests were counted on all of Puerto Rico’s beaches, including on the islands of Culebra and Vieques, the increase in 2014 is very encouraging news for conservationists, and promotes the environmental image of the Enchanted Island.

The director of the Sea Turtle Program, Carlos Diez, noted that citizen awareness regarding the importance of working with environmental authorities to protect turtle nests has played a role in the increased numbers of turtle nests. Moreover, leatherback turtles are protected by law in Puerto Rico and anyone found killing, trapping, injuring, buying or selling turtles or their eggs may be punished with fines of up to $50,000 or even up to a year in jail.

Every year between March and August, leatherback turtles migrate to the beaches of Puerto Rico to lay thousands of eggs. As the largest of all sea turtles, leatherbacks are also among the oldest living reptiles on earth. Fossilized skeletal remains of turtles similar to today’s leatherbacks are believed to date back 100 million years. As they live in the open ocean and are migratory, many are caught and drowned in commercial fishing nets. Pollution in the oceans, particularly of plastic bags that resemble jelly fish and are eaten by the turtles, plays a significant role in declining populations. Also, in countries where they are not protected by law and vigilant conservationists, leatherback turtles are killed for their flesh and their nests plundered for eggs. All these factors have resulted in a drastic and alarming decline in turtle populations, and they have long been listed as an endangered or threatened species.

While worldwide statistics may appear to be all doom and gloom, the increase in leatherback turtle nests on Puerto Rico’s beaches show that conservation efforts are worthwhile, and every individual can make a difference in protecting our precious environment and the animals that depend on it.