Sea turtle nests survive high surf from Hurricane Irma

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Green turtle nest hatches before Irma hits Turtle watch volunteer Jennifer Scott excavates a green sea turtle nest Sept. 7 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. The nest was one of five green turtle nests on the island. The excavation revealed 109 hatched eggs and two live hatchlings, which were released to the Gulf of Mexico.
A rare event for Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch — a green sea turtle hatchling crawls to the Gulf of Mexico Sept. 7 on Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. Green turtles are a threatened species. Islander Photos: AMITW/Amy Waterbury

“We are extremely lucky,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said Sept. 12. “This storm was child’s play for us, really. And, many of our nests still may hatch.”

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the United States over the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm, then a second U.S. landfall in Naples Sept. 10. By 1 a.m. Sept. 11, Manatee County and other areas were getting hit with hurricane-force winds.

A slight turn to the east as the storm approached Tampa Bay saved the area from potentially catastrophic damage. Since the storm passed east of Anna Maria Island, storm surge was minimal.

Fox said turtle watch received calls from supporters around the globe, concerned about the loggerhead nests on the island.

“We got calls from around the country and other parts of the world asking how our loggerhead nests weathered the storm,” Fox said. “People were really scared.”

As of Sept. 17, AMITW reported 319 hatched nests and 37 nests remaining to hatch on the island.Fox said 22 nests were lost during the storm.

Additionally, she said there could still be “surprise hatches” from nests that had stakes washed away in the storm.

“We lost stakes to 22 nests but believe eggs from half of those are still in the ground and unmarked at this time,” Fox said.

She emphasized the importance of staying compliant with sea turtle regulations for lighting and said if anyone lost turtle-friendly bulbs in the storm, turtle watch could replace them at no cost.

“If you bring us a broken bulb, we’ll replace it for you,” Fox said.

She advised since nests are still hatching out and could be unmarked, people need to keep lights visible from the shoreline low and shielded and, if not turtle-friendly, exterior lights should be turned off at night.

Artificial light can disorient hatchlings away from the water, exposing them to death by predation or dehydration.

“At this point, leaving a porch light on could do more harm than the storm did,” Fox said.

Fox said walkers will continue to conduct daily beach surveys, checking for hatched nests until season ends Oct. 31.

Fox said AMITW is required to monitor the nesting beaches as part of their agreement with Manatee County. And, the volunteers are “enthusiastic” to keep walking.

“You cannot keep a good energetic volunteer group down that is for sure,” Fox said. “We’ve still got a job to do.”


Skimmers stay put during Irma

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported Sept. 12 about 53 adult black skimmers and about 40 juveniles remained on the beach in their colony about 200 feet north of the condos in the 5400 block of Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach.

The stakes for the buffer zone were removed in preparation for Hurricane Irma.

According to Fox, the birds were sluggish and she advised people to exercise caution when walking the beach near the colony. Juveniles may be resting in the wrack line.

— ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

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