Turtle Habitat on Puerto Rico Coast Protected

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Governor An?bal Acevedo Vil? announced today the preservation of the 270-acre San Miguel property on the north coast of Puerto Rico, in the area known as the Northeastern Ecological Corridor. The Commonwealth worked with The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, to permanently protect the property.

The site, 25 miles east of San Juan, is the most important nesting beach for the endangered leatherback sea turtle in Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and provides nesting habitat for other sea turtle species as well. It includes more than a mile of beachfront, near-shore coral reefs, one of the region’s last unspoiled dune systems, and the remnants of a 19th century hacienda that was used for sugar cane production.

The site is part of the proposed Northeastern Ecological Corridor (NEC), which comprises about 3,200 acres and is one of the Caribbean’s greatest unprotected areas, including an extraordinary array of tropical habitats seldom found in other parts of the world. In addition to coral, mangroves, pre-Columbian forests, and all the different varieties of coastal wetlands found in the NEC, the San Miguel site includes a highly functional wetland ecosystem that, together with the wetlands found throughout the NEC, are essential to the existence of a seasonal bioluminescent lagoon known as Laguna Aguas Prietas, an extremely rare biological phenomenon.

“Preservation of the San Miguel property is an incredible achievement by the Commonwealth,” said Greg Chelius, director of TPL’s program in Florida and the Caribbean. “We were very pleased to be part of this project, and look forward to continuing our work conserving land for people in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean.”

The 270-acre property site was part of an area planned for a large-scale resort, with 1,025 residential units, a 250-room resort/casino, a 175-unit hotel/casino, and two golf courses. But there was widespread concern about the resort’s proposed use of limited water resources, along with destruction of wetlands and possible harm to endangered species habitats.

“With a limited land mass and a highly dense population, Puerto Rico must act quickly to counter the encroachment of urban areas into unique wildlife habitats, such as the ones found in the NEC,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Chairman of Waterkeeper Alliance, which has urged protection of the NEC. “Maintaining the health and viability of native habitats and biodiversity is essential to Puerto Rico?s ecological, economic, cultural and social wellbeing.”

After years of controversy over the proposed development, including lawsuits, strong public opposition, and permitting difficulties, The Trust for Public Land purchased the property from Juaza, Inc. in August and conveyed the property to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for its permanent protection as a natural reserve.

The 270 acres now under contract represents almost half of the total property Juaza Inc. owns at the site.

“We are talking to Mr. Zalduondo about possibly buying more of the land, including about 175 acres and another half mile of beachfront,” said Mildred Ramos Majoros, TPL’s Puerto Rico project manager.

The purchase price for the 270-acre parcel was $12.5 million, about $3 million below the property’s appraised market value. Funding for the Commonwealth’s purchase came from a variety of sources, Ramos Majoros said, including $8 million from the Berman Oil Spill settlement funds from the Oil Pollution Act Natural Resource Damage Assessment Program and $1.5 million from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund Recovery Land Acquisition Program. The project is also eligible to receive $3 million from the Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program, which is currently being considered for funding by Congress.

“We were very pleased to work with the Commonwealth to identify and secure permanent funding for this spectacular coastal property, so that it will be protected as part of Puerto Rico’s extraordinary system of natural reserves,” Ramos Majoros said.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than two million acres in 46 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations and corporations.