Culture

Hurricane Irma Destroyed Thousands of Sea Turtle Nests Along Atlantic Coastline

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Some Floridians are still cleaning up their neighborhoods from the devastation that Hurricane Irma left in its wake, and it’s easy to forget that local wildlife was impacted by the intense rain and tidal surges as well. Nesting season is from March through October for the thousands of sea turtles that crawl ashore to lay their eggs. Sadly, countless turtles have been lost to the storm.

Several species of sea turtles make the annual slog onto the beaches of the coastlines of the southeastern states to dig nests, deposit their eggs, and disappear back into the ocean, including loggerheads, leatherbacks, and green sea turtles. Unfortunately, the powerful pounding that the beaches took washed away or crushed many turtle nests. The wrecked nests have become a buffet for crabs and seabirds, but Irma likely didn’t decimate the next generation of sea turtles.

Biologists note that about 153 nests were lost in the Sarasota area of Florida alone, and it has been estimated that around 1,600 nests in South Carolina may be impacted. The good news is that the nesting season was over for loggerheads and leatherbacks; the vast majority of ruined nests belonged to endangered green sea turtles. A mother green sea turtle digs a nest on the same beach she was hatched on and lays between 100 and 200 eggs every two to four years.

Richard WhiteCloud, founder of Fort Lauderdale’s Sea Turtle Oversight Protection organization, commented about how much worse an Irma-like hurricane could’ve been for Florida’s young sea turtle population if the storm had slammed the state a little earlier this summer. “The beach was totally ravaged, however we did see some nest markers in place that were high up in the dune system,” he told ABC News. “Some of those nests were left intact, but whether or not they’re viable, there’s no real way for us to know until they actually hatch. If Irma had come in peak season in July, it would have been devastating. We literally have hundreds of nests hatching every night then.”

Green sea turtles nest on nearly all of Florida’s beaches, and beachgoers are encouraged to leave any damaged sea turtle nests that they may find alone.