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A newly hatched leatherback sea turtle takes to the sea on a beach in Puerto Rico. (Photograph by IrinaK, shutterstock; International Mapping)

Big Win for Sea Turtles in Puerto Rico

Last spring Puerto Rico bucked a decades-long trend by protecting 3,000 acres of pristine beaches and mangroves along the Northeast Ecological Corridor.

A new law marks an unexpectedly happy ending to a 15-year battle fought by environmental activists to wrest this portion of the Caribbean island’s coast–which includes a vital nesting area for the endangered leatherback turtle–from the construction cranes of developers.

A microcosm of Puerto Rico, this swath of land encompasses all types of coastal wetlands found on the island and is home to nearly 900 other species, including ones struggling to survive such as the endangered West Indian manatee.

“Its scale of ecosystem diversity is extremely rare in any location around the world,” says Camilla Feibelman, a former field organizer for the Sierra Club, which offers tours of the region.

Day-trippers from San Juan, less than five miles to the west, already head to eastern Puerto Rico for El Yunque rain forest and the bioluminescent Fajardo lagoon. Yet the corridor is even easier to access–public bus is one option–and the recent legislation promises to encourage ecotourism in this unique habitat.

Soon travelers can expect expanding hiking and biking rails as well as the introduction of interpretive experiences, guided tours, and kayak rentals.

  • Travel Trivia: The temperature inside the nest of turtle eggs determines the sex of the hatchlings. Hotter temps produce more females.

This piece, written by Julie Schwietert Collazo, first appeared in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.