Puerto Rico’s Laguna Tortuguero
Laguna Tortuguero in Vega Baja is one of the largest lakes in Puerto Rico, although it is not much like the lakes we’re familiar with. Fed by rainwater, freshwater springs and natural drainage, Laguna Tortuguero in turn drains directly into the Atlantic. As such, it is situated very close to the northern coast of Puerto Rico and is susceptible to being breached by the sea when violent storms and hurricanes strike the island.
Even so, the copious natural wildlife that frequent Laguna Tortuguero deal with the changing aspects of the area, in fact they have evolved to deal with these environmental changes. The lagoon is home to many types of fish, some of which seek the protection of the lagoon when laying their eggs.
The government of Puerto Rico has recognized the unique nature of Laguna Tortuguero and in 1979 wisely enacted protective legislation in order to preserve the ecosystem and ensure it is not destroyed by human activity, legal or otherwise. Administered by Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources (DRNA), the Tortuguero Lagoon Nature Reserve does not allow camping, although visitors are able to enjoy the sparkling blue waters for kayaking and boating using an available boat ramp. Swimming is not recommended as freshwater crocodiles (sometimes called Caimans) have been introduced into the lagoon and thrive there. It’s likely that these caimans were bought when young for pets, and later released into the lagoon when they became larger and unmanageable.
Laguna Tortuguero is a popular stopping-off point for migrating birds and waterfowl, including some rare and endangered species. Plant life is also abundant in and around the lagoon, and the unusual nature of the ecosystem makes it home to approximately 144 rare plant species. There are seven types of carnivorous plants in the reserve, two of which are found only in Laguna Tortuguero and nowhere else in the world. The best way to visit the Tortuguero Lagoon Nature Reserve is to first contact Puerto Rico’s Office of Ecotourism, which will be happy to provide information about Laguna Tortuguero and can even arrange excursions to the lagoon by making a reservation.