by: John Rodriguez
For retired Biology Professor, 53-year-old Luis Crespo wakes up and walks along the southeastern coastel town of Maunabo, Puerto Rico. Not something he does simply out of necessity, because Crespo has taken on a much more meaningful task. Heading to areas along the coast designated Playa California and Playa Larga, Crespo and other volunteers check to make sure that about 156 nests of Leatherback Sea Turtles are safe and unharmed due to people unintentionally harming them or other who intentionally steal eggs.
Scattered along the sandy beach the nests are watched by a community group Amigos de las Torugas Marinas (Friends of the Marine Turtles) led by Crespo as its director. Crespo describes his part in the protection of the Leatherback Sea Turtles is important since, “in the past 11 years, the number of nests on our beaches has grown every year,” and along with the growth of nests the group has grown itself from 4 volunteers to a total of 25.
The leatherback sea turtles are an endangered species that migrates away from Puerto Rico during the year, but use the sandy beaches of the island to lay their eggs. This year, Crespo has stated that at least 4,000 baby tinglares (black and white-spotted turtles) are expected to hatch from the egg, climb up from within the sand, and head for the ocean to swim out in. It is because of this Crespo promises he and others are, “committed to saving this endangered species, and it gives us great satisfaction every time we see the little turtles hitting the water.”
Last Friday, fresh out of the egg little baby leatherback sea turtles took their first steps across the sands of Maunabo. The area that Crespo and his group cover is the southeastern coast of the island which is the second-largest nesting grounds of the tinglares, coming right after the Northeast Ecological Corridor located between the towns of Luquillo and Fajardo.
While Crespo and his group continue to protect the endangered sea turtles, the group had some help in 2007 after a union of environmental groups campaigned to preserve the corridor which was back by then Puerto Rico Governor Aníbal Acevedo who issued an executive order declaring the area a nature reserve. However, in 2009 current Governor Luis Fortuño eliminated the executive order which makes the corridor no longer a nature reserve.
Despite the setback, Crespo and others are still working on keeping the Leatherback Sea Turtles nesting grounds secured and safe until something can be done. A College student and volunteer in ensuring no harm comes to the eggs, Ana Pérez believes that, “through science, community, organizing and work with kids, we will get our corridor back as a whole, not full of holes,” A declaration that she, Crespo, and other turtle lovers in Puerto Rico are sure to live up to in order to keep these unhatchlings safe until they venture out into the sea.