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.
I visited the University of Texas’ non-public facility, Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) in Port Aransas, Texas while researching my novel, Elizabeth’sLanding. 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
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.
Relocating sea turtle eggs is done but it is delicate, even under ideal conditions. Once the storm hits land, storm surgeshave 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.
Four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster it’s hard to find irrefutable good news. Billions of dollars and countless numbers of scientists and project staff are focused on understanding and fixing the large and lingering damage. Predictions about the future are cautious to non-existent. What’s clear is the Gulf and the creatures that depend on it are still struggling.
Food, habitat, next generations
While tourists and locals in a news video shot in New Orleans said they had no health qualms about eating Gulf seafood, an oil industry worker/sports fisherman ina Fox News clipbemoaned the disappearance of red fish in his home waters. In a Reuter’s piece last week, Jules Melancon, “the last remaining oyster fisherman on Grand Isle,” says all his leased oyster beds are barren. Seven fishing grounds off the Louisiana coast remain closed.
CatIsland in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, once a teeming pelican rookery, is devoid of stabilizing vegetation. It’s wasting away. The oil/dispersant mix that soaked into the soil poisoned mangroves and all the other plants. The muck is still there, destroying any chance new vegetation will secure a toe-hold. Restoration has begun in some areas hit by the spill, but it’s expensive and slow-going.
U.S. Navy submersible, “ALVIN” used by the research team this month. Creative Commons photo
Where nothing survived four years ago, this week she saw eels, skates, and a vampire squid. Conclusion: recovery is happening. However the sea floor is covered in an inches-thick oiled layer. The long-term effects are unknown, and while heartened she cautioned not to extrapolate the positive signs across the entire area affected by the original spill.
Human health studies
The National Institute of Health (NIH) is in the early stages of its 10-year study on the human health impacts to those who lived in the area and worked on clean-up. It may be years, maybe never, before the true health effects of the spill are known. Many of the sick, lacking health insurance, can only wait and hope their claims survive the complicated bundle of paperwork and court battles between the government and BP.
Environmental monitoring group, Gulf Restoration Network, reports oil is still appearing on Louisiana’s Grand Isle beaches. They collected “thousands of tar balls” there April 9th, 2014. BP denies they are from the Macondo well, saying the tar balls are no threat to human health. (Reuters)
BP has spent tens of billions of dollars in fines, clean-up, and compensation. That figure has almost doubled in court fights, the company attempting to overturn or delay payments.Locally, rifts have developed between claimants who have received settlements and those denied or still waiting. Lawyers have claimed a lion’s share.
A failure to improve
In the meantime, BP has successfully bid on 24 blocks offered for lease in the Gulf of Mexico. These are the company’s first new U.S. offshore leases in two years, which include government approval for deep-water drilling.
Creative commons photo
According to a disturbingNew York Times OpEd article (4/17/2014)nothing has changed in terms of engineering refinements on any deep water operations. The Obama Administration “…still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes.Making matters worse, the administration proposes to expand off-shore drilling in the Atlantic and allow seismic activities harmful to ocean life in the search for new oil reserves.” (Liz Birnbaum, former head of the Minerals Management Service, industry regulatory agency at the time of the Macondo blow-out and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at Oceana.)
New leases for deepwater drilling are handed out to companies every year, yet improved regulations and design requirements on blow-out preventers promised four years ago remain non-existent. “The N.A.E. (National Academy of Engineering) report warned that a blowout in deep water may not be controllable with current technology,” the N.Y.Times piece concluded.
Business as usual.
OKAY, TODAY’S GOOD NEWS!
I was at a low ebb this afternoon after researching articles for this post, when in came an e-mail from Adrienne McCracken. She’s the Field Operations Manager for Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Florida. Adrienne’s Kemp’s ridley hatchling is the eye-catching baby turtle on the cover of my novel, Elizabeth’s Landing.
Leatherback sea turtle crawl track, Juno Beach FL 4/20/2014. Photo by Adrienne McCracken, Loggerhead Marine Life Center.
She said, “Happy Easter! We had our own version of an egg hunt this morning with a leatherback and a loggerhead nest…”Whoo-hoo! Life goes on, and as Maria the biologist in the book tells Elizabeth, “It’s a one-turtle-at-a-time job.” This morning Adrienne and her group enjoyed two, with hope for 200+/- hatchlings in a few months. Thank you Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and all sea turtle conservation groups for being on the beaches year-round.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center Field Technician, Shelby, flagging a Loggerhead nest 4/20/2014. Photo by Sarah Hirsch
The second piece of good news, at least for me, came yesterday from the Nautilus Book Awards. Elizabeth’s Landing earned a 2014 SILVER award for Young Adult Fiction.Last year, Nautilus GOLD and SILVER award winners included three authors I love: Barbara Kingsolver for Flight Behavior, Louise Erdrich for The Round House, and Brene’ Brown for Daring Greatly. In April, Elizabeth’s Landing was awarded FIRST PLACE in Fiction in Writer’s Digest’s 2013“Self-published e-book Awards.” I am deeply honored by both awards and hope they help bring more attention to the desperate plight of all sea turtles.
It’s spring, and with it comes new energy and possibility. Bloom where you can.