Explore Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor
Stretching from Luquillo to Fajardo along the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, the Northeast Ecological Corridor features vastly diverse habitats – wetlands, mangroves, beaches, forests and a bioluminescent lagoon – supporting a fascinating variety of flora and fauna. The preservation of the region has been a controversial topic over the years, with former Puerto Rican Governor Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá passing a decree in April 2008 declaring it a protected area, and Governor Luis G Fortuño-Burset reversing the decision in October 2009. Following a protracted battle by environmentalists against developing the area, in June 2012, up to two-thirds of the original land was re-designated as a nature reserve.
Listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN, the Leatherback Turtle, which became the symbol of the environmental struggle, lays its eggs on the NEC beaches and is therefore considered to be protected. As the largest of all living sea turtles, the diet of Leatherback Turtles consists almost entirely of jellyfish and they, therefore, play a huge role in controlling jellyfish populations. Researchers have found that carelessly discarded plastic bags floating in the water are often mistaken for jellyfish by turtles, with tragic consequences. Also, the decline in turtle populations is likely linked to the increase in the numbers of jellyfish that has been noted in recent years. Other reptilian species in the NEC include geckos, lizards, iguanas and snakes, including the Puerto Rican boa, which is endemic to the island.
Four of the sixteen species of Puerto Rico’s Coquí are found within the Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC). Easily identified by the distinctive call the male makes, this cute little frog has become the island’s mascot. Other amphibians found in the NEC include the White-lipped Froglet, the Bullfrog and the Cane Toad.
The West Indian Manatee is found in the mangroves of the NEC. This ungainly looking marine mammal is considered by the IUCN to be ‘vulnerable’. The biggest threats to manatees, apart from habitat degradation, is collision with watercraft and entanglement in fishing gear, so protected areas such as the NEC are vital to its survival.
Birding enthusiasts will find the NEC to be a real treat. With 123 species of birds on record, of which nine are endemic, the area is also a refuge for dozens of migratory birds. Birders can be on the lookout for Piping Plover, Caribbean Coot, Roseate Tern, Great Blue Heron, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon, Great Egret, West Indian Whistling Duck and Brown Pelican, to mention a few of the feathered treasures found in Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor.