I am muy emocionada about today’s post because it involves my beautiful Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is actually a group of islands in the Caribbean, a former Spanish colony that is now part of the USA. From the gobsmacking diversity of El Bosque Nacional El Yunque (El Yunque National Forest) to the bioluminescent bays (PR has 3 of the 5 bioluminescent bays in the world: Laguna Grande in Fajardo, Mosquito Bay in Vieques and La Parguera in Lajas), Puerto Rico is brimming with natural beauty for you to discover! Lace up your hiking boots and walk through one of the 36 nature reserves, 19 state forests and five wildlife refuges or throw a swimsuit on and choose from nearly 300 white sand beaches para hanguiar.
Speaking of those beaches… you aren’t the only one enjoying them. Discover Puerto Rico wants to remind you it’s that time of year again: turtle-nesting season! And with World Turtle Day being TODAY (May 23), what better time to talk about the three main turtle species that visit this gorgeous Caribbean jewel?
Green Sea Turtle
¡Ay bendito! Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) have to be one of my favourite species. They are named as such for the green color of the cartilage and fat under its shell, not because they are herbivores (eating mostly seagrasses and algae). Green sea turtles hold the title as the largest species of hard-shelled sea turtle and inhabit tropical and subtropical coastal aguas around the world. Classified as endangered, they are unfortunately face mounting pressure from a slew of threats (e.g. overharvesting of their eggs, hunting of adults, being caught in fishing gear and loss of nesting beach sites). Green sea turtles and leatherback turtles (see below to learn more about them) both tend to migrate to the beaches of Culebra.
This next species is una tortuga que se ve un poquito rara. The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is listed under the Endangered Species Act because it is estimated that its global population has declined 40% the last few decades. Named after their leather-like shells (they’re the only species that lack scales and a hard shell), they are the largest sea turtle species and also one of the most migratory, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and some average 3,700 miles each way. They can dive to depths of approximately 4,000 feet—deeper than any other species—and can stay down for up to 85 minutes. These animals are known to feast on jellyfish and salps and have backward-pointing spines in their mouth and throat that help retain this gelatinous prey.
Like other sea turtle species, they spend most of their lives in the ocean, but females have to leave the water to lay eggs. Within the United States, the majority of nesting occurs in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. En el Caribe, there are only three prime places where these animals nest and Culebra is one of them!
Hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) get their name from their unique beak-like mouth that sort of resembles that of a hawk! They are omnivorous but prefer a diet consisting mainly of esponjas. Coveted for their beautiful shells (labelled as ‘tortoise shell’ that we see in many types of jewellery), hunting nearly wiped them out and today the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) forbids the trade of any turtle products on the international market, including hawksbill tortoise shell! Illegal hunting is a continuous threat they face which is why they are Critically Endangered.
The largest poblaciónes of hawksbills are found in the Caribbean, Indian, and Indo-Pacific Oceans and tend to nest in small numbers; the most significant nesting within los Estados Unidos de América occurs in Puerto Rico where 500 to 1,000 hawksbill nests are laid on Mona Island each year! Yup, this is a permanent nesting sanctuary for them! ¡Qué brutal!
According to scientists, approximately 61% of worldwide turtle species are at risk due to habitat loss, climate change and pollution. So, what is Puerto Rico doing to proteger sus tortugas marinas? Here are some examples of ongoing sea turtle conservation!
Want to travel to Puerto Rico ahorita to see these animals? There are a few things to remember:
¿Cuál es tu especie de tortuga favorita?
Huge thanks to Discover Puerto Rico for sending me this amazing turtle conservation information!
They have not sponsored this post and there are no affiliate links.
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Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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