Photo: Leatherback turtle
More than 1,700 nests of the leatherback, the largest sea turtle in the world, have been counted on the beaches of Puerto Rico, a far higher number than in recent years - and with another two-and-a-half months of the season still to go.
The director of the Sea Turtle Program of the U.S. commonwealth’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Carlos Diez, told Efe about the increase, adding that during the entire season last year there were a total of 1,368 nests on Puerto Rican territory including the nearby isles of Vieques and Culebra.
In his opinion, the increase is partly due to greater citizen awareness about the importance of protecting the nests and more concern about helping environmental authorities save them.
According to figures provided by the Friends of Sea Turtles organization, 1,369 nests were counted in 2011, while in 2012 a total of 1,359 were found, during the respective leatherback nesting seasons that extend from March to August.
Killing, injuring, harassing, trapping, buying or selling turtles or misusing their eggs is punished in Puerto Rico with fines of up to $50,000 and possibly a year in jail.
The leatherback, like all sea turtles, is protected by several U.S. federal laws and local Puerto Rican statutes, and in 1970 was included on the list of critically endangered species.
Each year this extremely migratory marine reptile heads for the tropics to reproduce. The eggs they lay tend to hatch on the beaches of the area between August and September.
Adult leatherback turtles can measure up to 7 feet (2.13 meters) long and weigh as much as 1,400 pounds (635 kilos).