November 3, 2009
Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512.289.8618
Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club, 787.688.6214
Endangered Leatherback Turtle Habitat Threatened by Puerto Rico Governor's Decision
Sierra Club, Coalition Partners Will Challenge Governor Fortuño's Cancellation of "Nature Reserve" Designation
San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Sierra Club and its coalition partners will challenge Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño's proposed cancellation of the "nature reserve" designation held since 2008 by the island's Northeast Ecological Corridor.
Covering more than 3,000 acres in the northeast corner of Puerto Rico, the Corridor had been designated as a nature reserve in 2008 by preceding governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. But late Friday, Governor Fortuño removed the designation of nature reserve in order to allow for large-scale, unsustainable development in the area, including more than 4,500 residential and tourist units and four golf courses.
The Corridor is one of the most important U.S. nesting grounds for the critically endangered Leatherback, the world's largest sea turtles. More than 50 rare, threatened, endangered and native species have been documented in the Corridor, including the Snowy Plover, the Brown Pelican, the Puerto Rican Boa, the Hawksbill Sea Turtle and the West Indian Manatee.
"The protection of the Northeast Ecological Corridor represents not only an opportunity to protect the second most important Leatherback turtle nesting beach in U.S. jurisdiction, but it is also an opportunity to develop nearby towns as gateway communities with small businesses and good ecotourism jobs," said Camilla Feibelman, Puerto Rico representative for the Sierra Club.
The Corridor's location within the foothills of El Yunque National Forest has made it a target of developers, including two proposed mega resorts: the Dos Mares Marriott Resort -- consisting of 3,450 residential and tourist units and 2 golf courses and the San Miguel Four Seasons Resort -- consisting of 1,450 residential and hotel units and two golf courses. The resorts would result in massive deforestation, the filling of wetlands, channelization of rivers, and the removal of coastal vegetation, significantly impacting the species and other living resources that depend on the Corridor.
"Sierra Club and its coalition partners are mobilizing supporters to call on Governor Fortuño to reverse his decision and to approve the Land Use and Management Plan for the Northeast Ecological Corridor Nature Reserve that was presented in public hearings last year and had overwhelming public support," said Angel Sosa, President of the Sierra Club of Puerto Rico. "Governor Fortuño still has a chance to demonstrate his commitment toward the protection and sustainable development of the extraordinary Northeast Ecological Corridor before it's too late."
On October 2007, former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá approved an Executive Order establishing as public policy the designation of the Corridor as a nature reserve while promoting its sustainable development based on nature tourism and ecotourism activities. This initiative was the result of nearly 10 years of work carried out by a coalition of local community and environmental groups, including Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, Surfrider Foundation, and Waterkeeper Alliance, among others. The Corridor nature reserve has also been supported by the U.S. Forest Service El Yunque National Forest, the USDA International Institute of Tropical Forestry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and leaders of the main Christian churches and the Catholic Church on the Island, among other organizations. Actors Benicio del Toro and Edward James Olmos have also publicly expressed their support towards the protection of the Corridor.