Florida sea turtle nesting could be impacted | News Coverage from USA

Florida sea turtle nesting could be impacted

So far, nothing about Hurricane Dorian has been predictable; so it’s no surprise experts aren’t sure how the storm will impact sea turtle nests along Florida’s Treasure Coast.

But they do know nests will be washed out to sea, particularly where the storm makes landfall.

A lot of nests may be lost because a lot of nests are being laid.

“Overall the sea turtle nesting season is going well,” said Quintin Bergman, Indian River County’s sea turtle specialist. “The turtles haven’t broken any records yet, however loggerhead and green nests are above the 14-year average which started when the County started monitoring nesting activity.”

Any storm can wash away beaches with incubating sea turtle nests, Bergman said. “We have no idea how much damage Dorian will bring, therefore cannot predict how many nests may be impacted.”

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Following the storm, he said, surveys will be conducted to assess the damage, if any.

Laying to hatching

Sea turtles have been nesting on beaches impacted by storms for a very long time, Bergman said, and have adapted to prepare to cope with storm events.

For example, one turtle can lay four to six nests in a season, each placed at different distances from the water.

“Essentially a mother turtle is hedging her bets in hopes that some of her eggs will develop into hatchlings,” Bergman said.

The official nesting season runs from March 1 through Nov. 15, and the arrival of the three species commonly found on the Treasure Coast overlap; but generally, leatherbacks come first, followed by loggerheads and then green sea turtles.

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The hurricane is hitting just as beaches are moving from egg-laying season into hatching season, said Grace Dotson, senior scientist at Ecological Associates, which monitors sea turtle nests on sections of shoreline throughout the Treasure Coast.

“We still have a few nests being laid,” she said, “but we’re getting a lot more nests hatching now.”

Hands off policy

After the storm passes, hatchlings from washed-out nests are likely to be scurrying on area beaches.

The official mandate from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is to not try to help them.

“Everyone loves sea turtles, and people always want to help,” Bergman said. 

Rather than take matters into their own hands, literally, anyone encounters who eggs, hatchlings or adult turtles on the beach should contact the FWC hotline: 1-888-404-3922.

“The state also cherishes our beloved wildlife and have very efficient procedures in place to save as many animals as possible,” Bergman said. “These experienced wildlife biologists will instruct the public as to which actions can be done over the phone.”

Follow Tyler Treadway on Twitter: @tcpalmtreadway

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