Green sea turtles flourish with record number of nests in Florida despite Hurricane Irma

Green sea turtles flourish with record number of nests in Florida despite Hurricane Irma
By Jennifer Fabiano, AccuWeather staff writer
December 20, 2017, 10:01:19 AM EST

Hurricane Irma completely disrupted the lives of Florida residents, but according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), green sea turtles made it through the 2017 hurricane season strong and thriving.

The FWC announced a record number of green sea turtle nests laid in Florida for the 2017 nesting season. Based on 27 Florida index beaches, the FWC documented 39,000 green sea turtle nests.

Green sea turtles nest more abundantly every other year, according to Michelle Kerr, the public information specialist for the FWC. But overall, green sea turtle nesting has seen significant increases over the past 27 years.

Green sea turtle infogram

Through preservation efforts, the number of green sea turtle nests has increased dramatically. The green sea turtles that nest on Florida beaches were even reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2016, according to the FWC website.

Though the green sea turtles hit a record, some nests were washed away by the storms, according to Dr. Kate Mansfield, a sea turtle biologist at the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group. An official report including number of nests lost to storms is not yet finalized, according to Kerr.

While some would expect the overall extremely damaging storms to devastate the sea turtle nests, they were not completely vulnerable to the elements.

“Sea turtles have a nesting strategy that accommodates natural storm events, such as hurricanes,” Kerr said.

According to Kerr, nesting female sea turtles deposit several nests throughout the season. The various nests make sure that despite a storm or high tide event, there is a higher chance that some nests will incubate successfully.

“No storm season is a total loss for Florida sea turtles,” Mansfield said.

Green sea turtle

In this Dec. 13, 2005 file photo, a green sea turtle is shown on Eastern Island in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (AP Photo/Luci Pemoni)

Hurricane impact on sea turtles is really more of a long-term issue that has more to do with the beaches than the turtles themselves, according to Mansfield. The main concern is beach erosion due to hurricanes.

“It’s a matter of whether nesting beach is still available because every time we get a big hurricane there’s massive beach erosion,” Mansfield said.

If strong storms continue to devastate Florida coasts year after year, the sea turtles could be in trouble.

“If we continue to get repeats of Irma every year, then we might be having more of an issue down the line for the sea turtles, nesting beaches and the habitat itself,” Mansfield said.

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The long-term effects also might not be seen just yet as it takes turtles a couple of decades to reach maturity, so seeing the effects on turtle hatching would take a few decades.

“It’s really a matter of patience and being on ‘turtle time’ to see the long-term effects,” Mansfield said.