Northeast Ecological Corridor – Beaches, Turtles and More
The Northeast Ecological Corridor, or the Corredor Ecológico del Noreste (in Spanish), is a wonderful stretch of coastline, from Luquillo to Fajardo. The area had been designated as a nature reserve to make sure that this important natural area would always always be there for future generations.
The Puerto Rico chapter of the Sierra Club is looking into developing the area for ecotourism.
Running from the eastern end of La Pared Beach in Luquillo to the western edge of Seven Seas Beach in Fajardo, the Northeast Ecological Corridor covers more than 3200 acres, and has 13 miles of coastline. The area includes beautiful beaches with healthy coral ecosystems, wetlands, forests, dry forests, mangroves, and a seasonal bioluminescent lagoon (Laguna Aguas Prietas).
Many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians call this place home. Some of them, like the Puerto Rican boa constrictor and the West Indian manatee, are endangered species.
This area is also the most important nesting site in Puerto Rico for the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle, and it is one of the top three nesting sites in all of the US. Besides the wildlife that enjoy the area, many people come here to enjoy walking on the beach, birdwatch in the marshlands, fishing, or even to surf the waves at La Selva.
A Long Walk on the Beach
It was overcast one April morning, so we decided it was a great day for a beach walk. We parked at La Pared, walked east to the end of the malecon, and walked down the steps to the beach. Once on the beach, we crossed a rocky area by the Sandy Hills Condos, and we walked … and walked … to the east. The first area that we came to had big surf and is generally unsafe for swimming. We continued past marshes and wooded areas.
We also passed a number of leatherback turtle nests. I have never seen a leatherback turtle, but I know they are large animals. From the looks of the turtle-tracks around the nesting sites, they are really bigger than I thought!
The nests were fresh and unmarked, but as we continued on, someone from the DRNA (Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources) came by marking and documenting each nest. We also saw a few older, marked nests from March. It is really important not to disturb these nests, or if you are lucky enough to see a turtle laying eggs or the hatchlings, DO NOT go near them. Let nature be.
We eventually got to a cove area, called Playa Las Paulinas, where the water was calm — it looked like a reef was protecting the beach from the waves. Judging from the parking area, shacks, make-shift grills, and trash, it is obviously a popular local beach area. This is were we sat, had our lunch, and enjoyed the beach and water (and the sun, which finally came out for us). The day we went (mid-week), there were two other families there, so we had plenty of private beach to enjoy.
The beach goes on and on, eventually you come to Playa El Convento, Governor’s Beach, Playa Escondida, and (after a walk through a wooded area) Balneario Seven Seas.
While the Sierra Club wants the whole area to become a nature reserve, they do realize that people should be able to enjoy the area. There are two dirt roads that lead from Route 3 into the Northeast Ecological Corridor. They are gated, but I don’t know the hours the gates are open. The one by Route 940 is a decent road. It goes to the surfing area and lots of trails for biking. There is another dirt road, just east of Lolita’s, but this one requires you to drive through three streams/rivers — I would not chance crossing these waterways in my car.
I was talking with a Sierra Club member, and his safety suggestions included not to leave anything of value in your car if you drive in to go to any of the beaches in the Northeast Ecological Corridor, not to walk alone on the beach here, and not to visit the area at night. There are lots of people who ride ATVs inside the area that come and go quickly, and he knew of a few unfortunate incidents.
The Sierra Club and its coalition partners are working on eco-friendly projects that will help educate people, keep the area preserved and help make jobs and generate income for the local area. Possible projects may include hiking and biking paths, bike rental kiosks to rent bikes to visitors, a welcome center with artisans and educational material and turtle hatching tours.
The area is open to visits. On our walks we saw a lot of trash during our walk along the beach, some of it washed up on shore, but a lot of trash was simply left behind by beach goers. If you visit the area, please carry out everything that you bring into the area, including any trash you might make while there. Also, consider bringing along an extra trash bag and picking up 1 bag full of trash that you see on the beach. Every little bit helps!
For safety reasons, I would only recommend visiting this area during daylight hours, and I would not visit the area alone.
There are no lifeguards at any of the beaches inside the Northeast Ecological Corridor. Swimming is completely at your own risk.
Be aware of riptides that occur frequently along the north coast. If you don’t know how to spot a riptide, or if you don’t know how to get yourself out of one should you get caught in one, then you have no business going into the water!
During times of high rainfall, some of the streams that lead from the mountains to the ocean become rivers. That means that a walk down the beach might require wading through waist or chest-deep water. This water can have a strong current and can sweep you out into the ocean.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.