Turtle watch wasn’t taking chances.
As people started preparing for Hurricane Dorian to bear down on the East Coast, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring was doing the same.
Preparation included pounding stakes that mark nests deeper into the sand so they would be less likely to wash away in rain and high surf and removing nest adoption plaques until after the storm, according to Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director.
At this point in the season, loggerhead nesting has all but stopped, but green sea turtles, which usually nest later in the season and are uncommon for Anna Maria, are still active.
Turtle watch documented nine green turtle nests as of Aug. 30 — a new record for the island.
With 161 nests remaining on the island out of 533 laid since May 1, Fox was hopeful the unhatched nests would survive the storm, which was churning northward in the Atlantic Ocean Sept. 2, as The Islander went to press.
When a powerful storm causes increased rainfall, higher than normal tides and surf, some sea turtle nests can be washed over and embryos might not survive.
Sea turtle eggs absorb water and hatchlings can drown before they emerge.
However, according to Fox, many of the nests still on the beach could hatch earlier than anticipated.
“When low pressure moves over an area, there’s a tendency for the nests to hatch sooner,” she said. “The nests that make it through the storm also could hatch just after it passes.”
When a nest hatches, turtle watch waits 72 hours to collect data.
AMITW excavates — digs into — a sea turtle nest to determine how many eggs have hatched. If there are live hatchlings they will be released to the Gulf and any dead hatchlings or unhatched eggs also are counted.
The safety of AMITW volunteers during a storm is the most important factor, Fox said.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations, volunteers are relieved of beach surveys and excavations until the storm passes.
As of Aug. 29, nests were hatching nightly and volunteers were collecting data daily.
Fox hopes to see a hefty hatch rate by Oct. 31, the end of sea turtle nesting season.
“It’s been a great season so far, with excellent hatch rates,” Fox said. “Hopefully the storm won’t have too much of an effect on our overall numbers.”