For Immediate Release, July 30, 2021
|Todd Steiner, Turtle Island Restoration Network, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rapid Development Threatens Critical Sea Turtle Habitat in Puerto Rico
WASHINGTON — Four Congressional Democrats urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to declare Los Almendros Beach in Rincón, Puerto Rico as a critical habitat for endangered hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles.
The request comes after the offices received reports from concerned residents, environmental groups, and animal welfare organizations regarding increased activity on the beach that is negatively impacting key nesting grounds of the species. Most recently, the letter states, a female hawksbill wandered into a swimming pool construction site, laid its eggs there, and was trapped inside. Nearby residents reported that the turtle was harassed by stray dogs which posed a threat to both the turtle and its eggs.
“This unfortunate incident clearly illustrates development disturbing these animals’ habitat and the need for protection,” the letter states.
Both hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles are listed as ‘endangered’ under the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has the responsibility to protect endangered species and designate critical habitats, or areas vital to the survival of endangered or threatened species.
Despite the designation of hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles as endangered in 1970, researchers report that their populations are still decreasing. The hawksbill sea turtle population has declined globally by over 80% during the last century. In Puerto Rico, leatherback nesting trends decreased as much as 5% annually from 1990 to 2017. If these trends continue, U.S. leatherback sea turtles in the Atlantic could decline by half within 30 years.
The most significant causes of these population declines have been continued illegal trade in sea turtle products, turtles caught as fishing bycatch, as well as development, feral dogs, and illumination of beaches near sea turtle nesting areas.
The letter was signed by Congressmembers Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), and Darren Soto (D-FL).