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Press Room:  For Immediate Release 
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet

Para español visite http://bit.ly/bVJbiL

February 22, 2010
Contact: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512.477.2152

Sierra Club Seeks Protection for Endangered Leatherback Turtles

Essential Puerto Rican Nesting Grounds Under Threat

Washington, D.C. -- The Sierra Club today petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect some of the most important leatherback sea turtle nesting grounds in the Unites States -- a string of pristine sandy beaches on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico that are part of the Northeast Ecological Corridor. If the Corridor's beaches and its nearby waters are not protected as critical habitat, American leatherbacks may lose the race for their survival as coastal construction and global warming eat away at their numbers.

"Leatherbacks were swimming the seas in the days of the dinosaurs. It would be a tragedy if, after 100 million years, we were the last people to ever see a leatherback cut through the waves or watch dozens of hatchlings scramble down a nesting beach. Both the Puerto Rican and Federal governments must take action to protect the Northeast Ecological Corridor and its turtles," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

The Ecological Corridor is an important nesting area for leatherback turtles, the world's largest turtle. However, Puerto Rico's governor, Luis G. Fortuño, removed the area’s designation as a nature reserve on October 30, 2009, opening the Corridor to a hotel, golf course and luxury homes, which could destroy nesting opportunities for turtles.

"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, president of the Puerto Rico chapter of the Sierra Club.

Leatherback populations have crashed across the globe and the Northeast Ecological Corridor is among the last remaining American leatherback nesting sites that still holds a significant population, and is therefore essential for this species' survival. The Corridor's beaches grow more important to turtles every year, as global climate change profoundly alters the world's oceans. Rising sea levels are washing away nesting beaches and shifting currents and ocean acidification make it harder for the turtles to thrive in their habitat. And, because the temperature of the nest determines the gender of turtle hatchlings, global warming may lead to major imbalances within leatherback populations. If the last nesting beaches aren’t protected, the leatherbacks may not make it through the century.

"If we do not protect turtle nesting beaches throughout the Caribbean we will lose them. The protection of the Northeast Ecological Corridor represents an extraordinary opportunity to help keep the U.S. leatherback population from extinction, as well as supporting the existence of the other 50 threatened, endangered, rare and endemic species found in this stunning natural area that everyone can enjoy," said Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, environmental scientist and planner of the Initiative of Sustainable Development.

The Sierra Club and the Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor have worked for the protection of this area as a nature reserve and prime eco-tourism destination for nearly ten years.  To find out more, visit www.sierraclub.org/corridor

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