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Impacts of 2017 Hurricanes on Sea Turtles

[7 November 2017- This is a living document which is being updated as new data becomes available]

While the data is still trickling in, we know the recent hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria) impacted sea turtles in numerous ways. While thankfully the primary nesting season in the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico was nearing its end when the hurricanes hit, thus limiting the impact on this year’s sea turtle reproductive effort, nonetheless, tens of thousands of eggs were still incubating and had not hatched when the hurricanes struck. Leatherbacks and green turtles (that nest later than Kemp’s ridleys and loggerheads) are likely to have lost the most nests. One of the most dramatic impacts including a juvenile green turtle rescued approximately 50 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.


 

Sea turtles were impacted in numerous ways including:

Mortality of eggs

– As much as 20-50% of nests from 2017 season had not yet hatched and may have been lost through exposure, beach erosion and drowning in US mainland, and possibly higher numbers in the Caribbean.

Mortality of hatchlings

– Thousands of recent hatchlings were killed or injured from tide surge that deposited them back on land

Mortality of adults and subadults

– There were reports of turtles dead and injured washing up on shore

Habitat destruction

– Many nesting dunes were pummeled, flattened and washed away

– Deposited trees and other debris may prevent hatchlings moving to ocean

– Deposited trees and other debris may prevent movement of nesters in 2018 season

– Destruction and interruption of floating Sargasso weed lines/mats which is critical habitat for hatchling and juvenile turtles. Large quantities of Sargasso algae washed ashore with 100s of entangled small turtles

– Destruction of seagrass beds, primary food of green turtles

Toxic Releases

– Known chemical releases from destroyed chemical plants occurred around Houston region may impact sea turtles directly, as well as their prey species

Plastic Pollution

– Hurricane damage resulted in large quantities of plastic pollution

Turtle Rehabilitation Centers

– Hundreds of turtles were transported out of sea turtle rehabilitation centers in the path of the storm. The direct impact on turtles that had to be moved is unknown.

– Many sea turtles that were not moved from sea turtle rehabilitation centers in the path of the storm were released prematurely back into the ocean.

– Storm damage to rehabilitation centers may have future impacts on injured turtles due to lack of facilities and resources

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News Round Up

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Trash washed up on Texas coast after Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of Pamela Plotkin.

We are in the process of interviewing sea turtle conservation programs in the impacted areas and gathering news reports. Below are some reports we have found:

http://www.news-press.com/story/news/local/2017/11/03/emily-irma-put-crunch-2017-sea-turtle-nesting-season-southwest-florida/831000001/

A storm-ravaged sea turtle nesting season came to an official end Oct. 31, with about half of the nests laid on Southwest Florida beaches washed out

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJSwwTCuyig

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, staff and volunteers at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida are caring for over 1,500 displaced hatchling and washback green and loggerhead sea turtles. When the turtles arrived at the zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center, each hatchling and washback was documented. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission then transported the turtles to safe waters.

http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-shelters-baby-sea-turtles-hurricane-irma-threatens-marinelife-center/crmjWxO51X9RhvgGlch7yN/

The aquarium has welcomed more than 50 sea turtles from a marinelife center in Florida, including loggerhead, green and leatherback turtle hatchlings, as well as adult green and loggerhead sea turtles, the aquarium announced.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article172660181.html

The group of volunteers at Fort Pierce rescued between 50 and 60 baby turtles by 10 a.m., according to WPTV, and found about 20 that didn’t survive the storm.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nationworld/national/article172660181.html#storylink=cpy

WhiteCloud estimates there were approximately 900 turtle nests throughout Broward County that were still active when the storm came in. The hatching season for turtles throughout most of Florida runs from March through October.

Further north, in Sarasota on Florida’s West Coast, a team from the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is just starting to assess potential damage to the more than 4,000 turtle nests that were active before Irma arrived.

“They can withstand some water but it’s the standing water that is not too good,” said spokeswoman Shelby Isaacson. “Thankfully for our area in particular, the storm went by really quickly so we’re hoping that means we won’t have a lot of standing water.”

http://www.kiro7.com/news/watch-thousands-of-sea-turtles-rescued-after-hurricane-irma-released-back-into-wild-1/612273377

Thousands of baby sea turtles washed ashore along Florida’s coastline after Hurricane Irma pounded the state last week. On Friday, more than 2,500 rescued turtles were released by Boca Raton’s Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/nesting-sea-turtles-floridas-frontlines-irma-nears/story?id=49712173

And as vulnerable southern Florida residents heed Gov. Rick Scott’s plea to flee Hurricane’s Irma’s ire, a record high 19,000 turtle nests laid this year along an almost 10-mile stretch of beach may not survive Irma’s powerful winds and surging tides.

The storm’s threat caused one turtle hospital in Florida to move all of their patients.

http://www.tcpalm.com/story/weather/hurricanes/2017/09/06/sea-turtle-nests-likely-affected-irma-likely-wont-affect-turtle-population/637988001/

Of the 4,500 loggerhead, green and leatherback turtle nests Ecological Associates has documented on its 11-mile monitoring area on Hutchinson Island throughout the 2017 season, about 1,000 of them remain on the beach, Scarola said.

http://www.islander.org/2017/09/sea-turtle-nests-survive-high-surf-from-hurricane-irma/

As of Sept. 17, AMITW reported 319 hatched nests and 37 nests remaining to hatch on the island. Fox said 22 nests were lost during the storm.

http://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/untamed-lowcountry/article173472981.html

As Tropical Storm Irma ripped through the area, pushing tides up the beach and wiping out dunes, 54 nests were lost to the ocean.

“The assumption is that we have lost all the nests to the storm and tides,” said Amber Kuehn, manager of the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project. “Even if some eggs are still on the beach, they’ve been inundated with water… . And when they’re inundated with water, they drown.”

Read more here: http://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/untamed-lowcountry/article173472981.html#storylink=cpy

Last year, a record-setting 411 nests were laid on Hilton Head beaches.

This year, counting the nests that were lost, 326 were laid.

Tidal inundation, as well as rainwater inundation, made for a tough season this year, Kuehn said.

http://www.tcpalm.com/story/weather/hurricanes/2017/09/15/wildlife-mostly-ok-through-hurricane-irma-long-treasure-coast-environment-wildlife-fish-water-qualit/660936001/

Immediately after the storm, hundreds of hatchlings were found on area beaches. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says hatchlings making their way to the water should be left alone, and those heading the wrong way may be picked up and place at the water’s edge.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/puerto-ricos-money-woes-dire-hurricane-irma-jose/story?id=49678436

The sea turtles are in the middle of nesting season, and most of our beaches that have the nests were probably swallowed up by that 10 foot-plus swells,” she said.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4878282/Sea-turtle-nests-buried-Vero-Beach-swept-away-Irma.html

Many of the eggs from threatened and endangered species, such as leatherback turtles and the more common loggerhead turtles, were dug up as the high surf pounded the beaches starting Saturday.

http://www.salon.com/2017/09/07/bigger-stronger-storms-will-mean-more-post-hurricane-pollution-does-trump-even-care/

More than 5 million pounds of pollutants from refineries and petrochemical plants were released due to the hurricane.

https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/houston-zoo-recieves-rescued-sea-turtle-sharpstown/

Green turtle rescued in Sharpstown, TX, located approximately 50 miles from Gulf of Mexico (and 30 miles from Galveston Bay)

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