Written by Halle Mahoney, ESLLC 2017-2018
Hurricane Irma did more than just wipe out homes, infrastructure, and businesses, it also washed away a large number of sea turtle nest that are located across the Florida Coast. The location of Florida is a center for sea turtle nesting and this was a hopeful year for the leatherback turtles who are endangered and the threatened loggerheads and green turtles. The hurricane diminished any hope of these turtles making a comeback this year. The two largest loggerhead nesting areas is located in the northwest Atlantic region where 89 percent of those animals are hatched in Florida. Just south of Cape Canaveral at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge a quarter of the loggerheads and more than half of the green turtle nests laid this season were washed out by the storm as it passed along these beaches. Fortunately, the leatherbacks did not lose any of their nest due to the Hurricane Irma because they lay their eggs earlier in the season.
Sea Turtles reach a reproductive age at about 25 to 30 years and they will lay their eggs under vegetation, at the base of a dune or in the open beach. Their eggs take anywhere from 45 to 70 days to incubate in the sand and the earlier in development they are the more vulnerable the sea turtles are. They will also lay multiple times in one season; loggerheads will wrap up their season in august or September, while nesting will continue through the peak of hurricane season for green turtles. The hurricane eroded most key nesting beaches, flooding them with rain or seawater or washing away nests. Just along two beaches south of Cape Canaveral over 90 percent of loggerhead nests were dismantled, which represents about 25 percent of the season total. Green turtles have laid almost 500 new nests since the hurricane, but loggerheads have only laid eight.
Green turtles have different laying patterns, which allows them to lay more nests in alternating years. For example, last year was a light laying year for the green turtles so when Hurricane Mathew arrived there were fewer nest demolished. Unfortunately, this year was a huge laying season with about 12,000 North of Cape Canaveral and more than 15,000 nests farther south; a large amount of the nest were lost. These are significant losses for the turtle populations and they will survive as long as the hurricane do not continue to keep on coming back to back. The only concern is that hurricanes are predicted to increase in intensity and frequency, but scientist are hopeful that these turtles will have a break next year to regroup.
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