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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Sea turtle protection volunteers see 1,000 hatchlings reach the sea

More than 200 leatherback nests have been recorded in the island’s Northeast Ecological Corridor Nature Reserve during 2022.

By John McPhaul

The Pro-Northeast Ecological Corridor (CEN by its Spanish initials) Coalition on Thursday recognized the work of its volunteers during the leatherback turtle nesting and hatching season, which has seen 1,000 hatchlings reach the sea.

The CEN Tortugueros Program is a group of volunteers that works marking nests, managing leatherback sightings and hatchings from Playa Fortuna in Luquillo to Playa Colora in Fajardo.

The group is made up of 14 volunteer leaders who patrol the beaches Monday through Saturday. The CEN Tortugueros works under the supervision of the Northeast Sea Turtle Management and Conservation Program of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) along with biologist Rosaly Ramos and marine biologist Kyoniz Vega Llanos.

“CEN’s Tortuguero Program has grown over the past 10 years from a few volunteers to over 35 people weekly monitoring the beaches,” Ramos said in a written statement. “At the beginning of the season we conduct training with the volunteers and they work under a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the species supervised by the DNER. The work of the CEN Tortuguero Program includes counting and registering the nests in a digital database created by one of the volunteers.”

“Thanks to these efforts we have been able to collect data on nesting patterns, population changes and the effects of climate change on the species,” she added. “The CEN Tortugueros Program is part of the Puerto Rico Turtle Network, where we demonstrate that the combination of community and government efforts can contribute to safeguarding our resources and establishing management strategies.”

The leatherback is the largest sea turtle in the world. It is known for its characteristic soft shell and black color with “keels,” or white lines. More than 200 leatherback nests have been recorded in the Northeast Ecological Corridor Nature Reserve (RNCEN) during 2022. The CEN Coalition is made up of a collective of community and environmental groups, residents and individuals interested in the management and conservation of the RNCEN.

The leatherback is threatened by habitat destruction due to overdevelopment and coastal erosion. Plastic pollution in the ocean is another factor that causes mortality. The main source of food for leatherbacks are jellyfish and they easily confuse plastic debris for them.

“The work of the CEN Tortugueros is essential for managing the Northeast Ecological Corridor Reserve,” said Nilda García Pastor, president of the CEN Coalition. “In the past year, we have seen a proliferation of illegal construction on the coast that affects species such as the leatherback. With the work of groups such as the CEN Tortugueros of the Northeast Ecological Corridor Coalition, we are managing to protect coastal species and a natural space while contributing to cultural, economic and community activities. We call on the central offices of the Department of Natural Resources to recognize these accomplishments, work on community co-management agreements and expand the involvement of community groups in the reserves.”

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