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Large waves stun tourists, create concerns for sea turtle reseachers

Posted at 12:57 AM, Mar 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-06 04:53:54-05

If you tried going to the beach over the weekend or on Monday, you probably thought twice about getting in the water.

Dangerous ocean conditions have prompted pier closures across Palm Beach County and beyond, thanks to the energy generated in the ocean by the big Nor'easter that impacted the Northeast this past week.

The dangerous conditions along our beaches threaten not only people who dare go near the water but sea turtles.

With sea turtle nesting season underway, the beach erosion caused by the waves are creating less space for loggerhead, green turtles and leatherback turtles to lay their eggs.

"All of this is beach that the turtles would normally use," said Justin Perrault, associate research director for Loggerhead Marinelife Center, pointing to what little piece of beach now exists between the waves and the dunes.

"When a turtle lays a clutch of eggs, if it gets inundated by water too many times, those embryos can no longer breathe, and it can cause significant declines in reproduction and things like that," said Perrault.

Perrault said the high waves are washing away the space that turtles need to nest.

"Turtles will come up on shore and look for suitable habitat and if that isn't there, they'll turn around and look for more habitat elsewhere," said Perrault.

Thankfully, turtles haven't yet started nesting in Juno and Jupiter beaches, one of the densest in the world for loggerheads and green turtles.

But there are other confirmed nests to watch for in Palm Beach, Hutchinson Island and Boca Raton.

"As far as what can be done, there's not much. We can't control what's going on with mother nature. We don't have the manpower to relocate some of these nests that might be in danger," said Perrault.

Perrault said he's thankful these waves are happening now, instead of later on during the height of nesting season. But for now, his research teams will have to work around these large waves.

"This makes it really hard on the turtles and really hard on us to monitor the beach," said Perrault.

Meanwhile, while the waves are perfect for surfers, swimming at public beaches is out of the question right now. Beaches are closed to swimming with lifeguards are keeping watch. Both the Juno Beach and Lake Worth piers are closed.

"This is amazing," said painter Kathleen Denis, gazing out at the closed pier in Juno Beach.  "The size of them, and how many there are."

Denis spent much of the day on Monday trying her best to capture the beauty of Mother Nature.

"My gosh. I've never seen waves like this, ever," she said. "It's hard to capture the wave because it's always moving."

Like many others, Denis is fascinated with the sight. All day, people stopped by just to watch and take pictures of the powerful swells battering the now damaged pier and the eroding beach.

"There's no beach!" said Herb Haft, who is visiting from Long Island, New York. "There's no place to sit but maybe in a week or two, it will be better.”

Michelle Quinn and her family actually intended to escape the Nor'easter from Pennsylvania.

"We left 8 inches of show. We weren't sure we were gonna get off the ground," said Quinn. "It's hard to be that fed up with this beautiful weather."

They thought they were in the clear when they arrived in Florida and were ready to hit the beach, until they actually got there. 

"These are quite insane. I didn't expect that," said tourist Rhianna Lewis. 

With beach chairs and beach bags in tow, the family was disappointed to see the "no swimming" sign and the waves washing all the way up to the dunes.

"I think some shopping and food is in store for us instead," joked Quinn.

Further north at Jupiter Beach Park, more crowds gathered at the inlet just to watch the waves crash into the rocks at the Jupiter Inlet.

"You wouldn't dare go in that water," said Vic Videll, who is visiting from California. "It's really different. I don't see any boats out there today. And I've never even seen it come up this far, ever."

The inlet is the same location where a little girl was swept into the water when a large wave crashed into a jetty on Sunday.

"You can't fool with Mother Nature," said Janice Costello from New England.

These rough seas are expected to continue the rest of the week.

"This is some of the biggest I've seen in years," said Kevin Pengue, a longtime Florida resident. "They're tearing up our beaches, and hopefully we'll get them back together soon."