Florida Sea Turtles in Irma’s Path

Photo: pixabay

On the heals of devastating hurricane Harvey in Texas, Irma barrels toward Florida this weekend, putting thousands of people, domestic animals, and wildlife, including endangered sea turtles, in jeopardy. Sea turtle rehabilitation facilities that care for injured turtles have been working ’round the clock, preparing for the worst.

According to Dr. Charles Manire, veterinarian and director of research and rehab at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, FL, past experience proves there’s no safe place in Florida for sea turtles in a hurricane—especially corkers like Irma. In this video he anticipates the Center turtles’ move well inland to the Georgia Aquarium.

Texas Aftermath

I visited the University of Texas’ non-public facility, Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) in Port Aransas, Texas while researching my novel, Elizabeth’s Landing. Unfortunately, the facility sustained severe damage, but I was glad to hear the wildlife in its care and the staff were unhurt. 

ARK facility during my visit in 2010. Photo: Katy Pye

Other key nesting and conservation facilities like Padre and South Padre Islands south of Corpus Christie escaped a Harvey hit.

HOW HURRICANES AFFECT SEA TURTLES

Off shore

Destructive impacts of a hurricane begin before the storm reaches shore. The storm’s wind energy mixes warm surface and deeper cold waters, lowering salt levels. Wave size increases, damaging underwater formations and stirring up tremendous loads of sand from the bottom. The food web for numerous species can be altered, short and long-term.

Storm’s landfall

Relocating sea turtle eggs is done but it is delicate, even under ideal conditions. Once the storm hits land, storm surges have deadly impacts on existing nests or nesting turtles. Eggs can drown or become exposed, scattered, and destroyed. Adult or emerging hatchlings are also at high risk.

Loggerhead sea turtle coming onshore to lay eggs. Photo: NOAA

However, according to Joe Scarola, a biologist for Ecological Associates Inc., a company that monitors sea turtle nests, Irma’s timing comes when the majority of eggs this season have already hatched. Nesting season continues through the end of October in Florida, so there’s a chance more eggs will be laid. Still it’s hard not to imagine thousands of recently hatched, 2″ turtles aren’t having a harrowing experience in today’s raging seas.

The very good news is it’s been a banner year for Florida sea turtle nests. Loggerhead Marinelife Center reports over 19,000 loggerhead, green, and leatherback nests on four beaches it monitors. Other groups also report many more nests in their regions.

Rehabilitating and protecting sea turtles is very expensive. Please consider a donation of any size to the organizations working valiantly to save them. Find one in your area here.

NOTE: If you come across eggs or stranded sea turtles of any size, report them to a local wildlife authority or sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation organization.

Stay safe.

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