SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico’s governor on Saturday signed a law to protect a swath of land along the island’s northeast coast that is a top U.S. nesting site for the world’s largest turtle species.
The law ends a 15-year fight that environmentalists and celebrities including actor Benicio Del Toro had waged against developers eager to build hotels, golf courses and luxury homes in an area fringed by palm trees and turquoise waters.
“This is so exciting,” said Angie Colon, an official with a nonprofit activist group that fought to preserve the land. “I’m still coming to terms with the fact that this is real.”
The area, known as the Northeast Ecological Corridor, covers more than 1,200 hectares (2,900 acres) of lush vegetation and pristine beaches that are a nesting site for the federally endangered leatherback turtle. It is also the site of a popular bioluminescent bay featuring microorganisms that emit a blue glow in the dark when agitated.
The 13-mile-long area also features all ecosystems found in Puerto Rico, ranging from a subtropical dry forest to El Yunque tropical rain forest, the only one that forms part of the U.S. forest system. The protected region has more than 861 types of flora and fauna, including 50 rare, endemic or threatened species. Scientists recently spotted a large brown bird known as a limpkin for its unusual walk that was last seen in the late 1950s.
Environmental groups now plan to develop the area for ecotourism.