After Elsa, dozens of sea turtle nests disappeared in SWFL. What does it mean for nesting season?
Tropical Storm Elsa brushed by Southwest Florida following the July 4th weekend without doing much more than dropping several inches of rain throughout the area, but it did affect nesting sea turtles.
After combing the beaches in the days following the storm, Collier County’s environmental specialist Maura Kraus was able to determine the damage to nests.
Out of the 1,365 nests documented across the county beaches, 144 were completely washed away and another 394 were washed over by tides, Kraus wrote in an email.
“So we will be watching the inundated nests, which may have little impact on the hatching or drowned the nest entirely,” she wrote. “It depends on how well the sand drained and how many times the waves washed over the nests.”
Nesting seasons begins:Gentle giants coming soon: Loggerheads, other turtles start nesting on area beaches soon
Did you know? Bonita Beach has first turtle nest of the season
Sea turtles have regularly dealt with hurricanes and tropical storms, and a staggered nesting period enables a more successful breeding season.
“This is all part of the strategy of a sea turtle laying throughout the season,” Kraus wrote. “We just hope we get some good hatching and storms stay away the rest of the nesting/hatching season.”
Maia McGuire, with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said in a news release that turtles lay eggs high on the beaches to avoid flooding, but big storms still pose problems.
“Storms may push sea water higher up on the beach than normal which can flood sea turtle nests, causing the embryos in the eggs to drown,” she said.
There is an overlap between Florida’s hurricane season and sea turtle nesting season, but the turtles lay nests in large areas, making up for losses that can occur during a storm.
In Lee County, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation discovered 45 sea turtle nests had completely washed away after Elsa, Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan said.
The group identified about 125 nests that had missing stakes, but using a highly accurate GPS device, called a Trimble, they pared the number down to 85 nests. A team then had to dig into those nests, and found 40 still had the eggs and the remaining 45 were washed away.
Sloan reiterated the ability of sea turtles to overcome these losses.
“Sea turtles been around for a million years and adapted to storms because during nesting, each individual turtle lays about four or six nests each,” she said. “That’s one every two weeks.”
In case you missed it:Tropical Storm Elsa soaks Naples
As soon as it was safe to go out and look for nests, Sloan said there were about 10 people at SCCF looking for the nests.
There is some optimism for sea turtles this year. Sloan said the islands are on track to have the second-best nesting season on record. And there could still be more good news.
“Some nests we think are goners because they were so inundated will sometimes surprise us and hatch,” she said.
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk