Sunday, October 16, 2011

Leatherback Sea Turtles In Puerto Rico

At least four of the seven species of marine turtles are found in the waters of Puerto Rico, or nest in the  beaches of Puerto Rico.  Those turtle species are: the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, the Green Turtle, and the Loggerhead.  The Hawksbill turtle and the Leatherback sea turtle, are critically endangered.  All coastal waters surrounding Culebra and Mona Island in Puerto Rico are designated as critical habitats by the federal government.



Leatherback turtles can be found primarily in the open ocean.  Leatherbacks follow their jellyfish prey throughout the day.  Its favored breeding beaches are mainland sites facing deep water and they seem to avoid those sites protected by coral reefs.  Leatherback turtles have the most hydrodynamic body design of any sea turtle, with a large, teardrop-shaped body.  A large pair of front flippers power the turtles through the water.  Like other sea turtles, the Leatherback's flattened forelimbs are adapted for swimming in the open ocean.



The coastal area from Ocean Park to Isla Verde, lined by condominium towers and hotels, has the most popular beach spots for tourists and locals in San Juan, Puerto Rico, bringing thousands of visitors on a daily basis.  Despite the crowds and development, this sandy stretch remains a prime nesting ground for sea turtles.  Beach goers in Puerto Rico, have been able to witness first hand the birth of Leatherback turtles.  An example of this happened along a crowded stretch of beach in Ocean Park, in the San Juan area.  Dozens of endangered sea turtles were born, emerging from their sandy nest after two months of incubation and headed straight to sea, to the delight of people on hand to see the spectacle.  The crowd of people at the beach helped the newborn turtles to the water, as they welcomed them to the world.  Most hatches take place at night, to protect the turtles from predators, so this was quite an experience for the crowd.



Some species of sea turtles, are believed to return to nest many years later, on the same stretch of coastline where they were born.  Pregnant sea turtles come out of the sea and lay their eggs into the sand.  Once hatched, the baby sea turtles emerge from the sand and quickly try to reach the sea.  Sea turtles face threats from predators and human intervention before they are even hatched.  Local environmental officials, activists and community members work to protect these nesting grounds.  Recently, a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources held a legislative hearing, on a bill introduced by Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, which would authorize the allocation of $5 million annually over each of the next six years to protect endangered sea turtles in Puerto Rico, other areas of the United States, and around the world.



Take a look at a video taken of a group of newborn Leatherback turtles making their way to the ocean:




                                                            

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