Featured Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
By Kira Krall
Nature centers and sea turtle monitoring programs on both coasts of Florida are hitting the beaches in full force to examine the damage Irma may have caused to sea turtle nests.
Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory is hard at work assessing their 4,000 remaining turtle nests. Employee Shelby Isaacson reported that the major threat to sea turtle nests is standing water. While Sarasota and the rest of Florida’s west coast escaped major storm surge, the nests on the east coast of the Southeast U.S. may be in trouble.
Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP) sends volunteers onto Fort Lauderdale’s nesting beaches to help hatchlings overcome any human-induced obstacles, including hatchling disorientation. STOP founder Richard WhiteCloud recently walked the area’s nesting beaches to check out the 900 remaining nests in his area. He found that nests located closer to the dune system were relatively undisturbed, but the storm may have affected the eggs in unseen ways.
This year’s hatchlings may not have been so lucky had Irma arrived in the peak hatching month.WhiteCloud reported that hundreds of nests hatch each night throughout July. While the hatchlings preceding Irma’s arrival made it out of the nest, some had a major setback.
Recently hatched turtles called “washbacks” are brought back to the sand by unruly seas. The Marine Science Center near Daytona Beach, Florida recently rehabilitated and released over 800 Irma washback turtles. Armed with buckets and kiddie pools, the Center staff and volunteers collected and housed the babies until the seas were calm enough to release them.
While only specially trained and permitted individuals can handle sea turtles, special events like Hurricane Irma require extra help. Read this blog from the Brevard Zoo for instructions on what to do if you discover a washback turtle. Watch a video about washback rehab and release from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium!