PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Hurricane Irma and the strong storms that followed wiped out many of the unhatched sea turtle nests that remained on Northeast Florida beaches, local turtle experts tell First Coast News.
A representative with Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol, which covers Jacksonville, Atlantic and Neptune Beaches, said 15 of the 61 turtle nests laid this season had not hatched before Irma hit. Of those 15, they suspect 13 are gone.
It was a similar situation just south of Duval County on the coastline of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Reserve.
“The turtles usually nest in the area in front of this area,” said Michael Shirley, environmental administrator for the GTM Research Reserve, pointing to the area in front of where the foredunes once stood.
The foredunes, the smaller dunes in the area right before the larger, primary dune system, were wiped out in the hurricane.
“[At] the time of the hurricane we had 43 nests spread out in an eight-mile stretch,” Shirley said.
Of those 43 nests, 42 washed away. Shirley suspects the one remaining was inundated by water, so it was likely lost as well.
However, Shirley noted that a total of 211 nests were laid during this season, so a large portion hatched before the storms hit.
“On the bright side, 80 percent of the nests had hatched so 80 percent of the turtles did manage to make it to the ocean,” he said.
Shirley expected the beach to recover and rebuild the habitat naturally, as it did after Hurricane Matthew.
“We’re gonna be fine here,” he said. “There’s enough habitat that the turtles are gonna be coming back, that come back to this beach, and we have nesting habitat here.”