Sea turtle nests vulnerable to Hurricane Irene

High seas may destroy sea turtle eggs

JUNO BEACH, Fla. - As Hurricane Irene churns up the waters east of Florida, it could have a powerful impact on some of the smallest life forms along the beach. We're right in the middle of sea turtle nesting season and Irene could wreak havoc on the many fragile sea turtle nests that inhabit our coastline.

More than six-thousand sea turtle nests line the beach between Jupiter and Tequesta. Unfortunately for the Loggerhead Marinelife Center that monitors the sea turtles, their only course of action against the coming storm is to wait for nature to take its course and hope for the best.

Biologist Kelly Martin knows just where to find marine life along Juno Beach. As she reaches down into the sand to check a nest that hatched earlier today, she scoops up two tiny loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings.

"The hatchlings usually emerge in mass," she explained. "All of them are working together to make their way to the surface. Occasionally you'll get one or two that hatch a little later than the rest."

Martin will release the two hatchlings into the sea at night; however, with Hurricane Irene heading just off our coast, it's the sea turtles
that have yet to hatch that concern her the most.

"Any egg that is affected by water probably will not make it," she said. "They can handle a little bit of overwash. If they get one or two waves over the top of the nest, they can usually survive that, but if the beach is completely eroded where that nest is, the eggs end up tumbling down the beach. They won't survive."

Martin says a sea turtle nest can be moved, but only in the first 24 hours after the eggs are laid. After that, it is too risky for the hatchlings.

"This one right here is one of our marked nests that we marked on June 16th," she said, pointing to a post with a yellow sign, warning beachgoers of the sea turtle nest beneath it.

Fortunately, sea turtles nests are on the rise. More than four-thousand have already hatched this season.

"Even if we do see some impact from the storm," Martin said, "we're not going to see a huge detriment to the sea turtle population as a whole. This is something that obviously happens every year. We are a busy storm area."

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center said if you see sea turtle eggs along the beach, now or after the storm, the best thing you can do is leave them alone.

Most hatchlings will make it to the water on their own, but if you see one in trouble, call the Loggerhead Marinelife Center at (561) 627-8280 or call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC on your cellular phone.


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