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Debby bad timing for sea turtle nests

By Staff | Jul 13, 2012

Tropical Storm Debby arrived on June

23 and appeared to be much like other

tropical storms, until it stuck around. The

high tides and winds associated with the

storm wreaked havoc on the beaches and

the timing could not have been worse for

sea turtle nests.

SCCF monitors sea turtle and shorebird

nesting on Sanibel and Captiva. This summer

the islands — and the entire state of

Florida — have seen higher than average

sea turtle nesting. Debby arrived just as the

nests laid early in the season were beginning

to hatch. At the time of the storm,

there were 207 nests on Sanibel; the storm

washed away 65 nests plus at least an additional

130 nests were washed over by high

tides or had excess sand deposited on top.

There were 86 nests on Captiva; 62 nests

were washed away and at least 15 more

were washed over by high tides or had

excess sand deposited on top. If water sits

over a sea turtle nest for too long at certain

critical points of development, the turtles

drown; if there is too much sand deposited

on top of a nest, the hatchlings cannot make

it out of the nest; if wet sand “concretes”

over the nest, the hatchlings also cannot

make it out. Seven of Sanibel’s nests

appear to have made it through the storm

unscathed and five of Captiva’s nests

appear to have remained dry.

The silver lining is that while Tropical

Storm Debby damaged many of the nests

on the beach at the time of the storm, the

storm occurred with two months left in the

nesting season. Sea turtles wasted no time,

returning to the beaches to nest as soon as

the waves and water receded. Since the

storm, an additional 42 nests have been

laid on Sanibel and seven nests on

Captiva, and nesting shows no signs of

slowing down any time soon. Some of the

nests washed over by the high tides have

even hatched since the storm. While the

success of these nests is below what we

would usually see, it is promising that

some of the hatchlings survived and continued

to develop despite the high tides.

The islands’ shorebirds were also

impacted by the storm, but not as severely.

Two Snowy Plover nests and two

chicks were lost. Luckily, six chicks survived

the storm and are doing well. The

brood of Wilson’s Plover chicks, already a

few weeks old, survived the storm and

will be flying any day now. Captiva’s

Least Tern colony also appears to have

weathered the storm with few impacts.