INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Hurricanes Ian and Nicole battered coastal shorelines unearthing turtle nests and stranding hatchlings on shore at the close of sespan turtle nesting sespanson.
Several reports to an Indian River County rescue group of endangered hatchlings followed the Nov. 10 landfall of Hurricspanne Nicole in Vero Beach, prompting rescues and guidance from the rescuers to beachgoers who see sick or dead sea turtle following storms.
“Our rescue team has been on call since the passing of this storm and have been very busy picking up small hatchlings that have washed back on shore due to the rough wind and waves,” said Coastal Connections Executive Director Kendra Cope.
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The majority of nesting in Florida occurs between May 1 and Oct. 31. About 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States is on Florida’s beaches.
Altogether 13 hatchlings, and what Cope called, “wash back” turtles, were rescued as of Nov. 14 and transported by Coastal Connections volunteers to the Sea Turtle Healing Center at the Brevard Zoo in Viera. All were said to be green turtles.
“This is more common during this part of the year, since green turtles are the species that nest on our beaches last,” Cope said. “At the time of the storm, there were still some green turtle nests incubating, and most recently hatched nests belonged to green turtles as well.”
During anywhere from a five-to-eight month nesting season, Cope said leatherbacks arrive first in March — ahead of the typical May start of nesting season. Loggerheads arrive in April and green turtles begin in May and continue nesting through October.
“Although sea turtles are highly migratory, the Treasure Coast is home to different species and life stages of sea turtles all year long,” she said.
Hatchling rescues continue
Cope said their work rescuing hatchlings would continue at least through the month; potential sightings could follow as seas calm and tides fall.
She said anybody walking beaches should keep an eye out for any sick, injured (or) even dead turtles.
“That is a great way to be a part of the conservation effort (and) of sea turtle conservation recovery,” she said.
As the agency does with other wildlife sightings, such as alligators, Coastal Connections partners with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and is one of the entities dispatched to retrieve turtles in Indian River County.
During a typical May-through-October nesting season new hatchlings incubate for two months and dig themselves free in a days-long process that ends in a night trek to the sea from the shoreline, which becomes their nesting ground throughout their 40-to-60-year lifespan, according to FWC.
Through shoreline erosion worsened by storms such as Ian and Nicole, some hatchlings can become uncovered before the completion of the incubation process or, as Cope said, washed back onto shore where they are at threat of dehydration.
The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office took to Facebook as Nicole passed and reported the relocation of a stranded hatchling in Wabasso.
“Sometimes an adult or hatchling sea turtle may become stranded on the beach or be found in an unsafe location,” the agency stated. “Do not take any sea turtles or eggs home or release turtles back into the water nearshore where they are not likely to survive during a storm.”
A Hurricane Nicole post-storm report from the National Weather Service classified Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties as sustaining “major coastal erosion” with significant dune damage from high surf and storm surge.
Coastal winds were between 60 and 70 mph in Indian River County, 55 and 65 mph in St. Lucie County and Martin counties, spanccording to the report.
“We’re responding to calls every day,” Cope said. “Call in to FWC and they will dispatch us out to any sick injured or dead turtles.”
Properly disposing of trash helps
Aside from reporting a distressed turtle, she said recycling and properly disposing of trash is another way to help local marine and wildlife.
“Debris entanglement, plastic ingestion and boat strikes are some of the most common reasons we find sea turtles stranding (or washing shore) all year long,” Cope said.
For boaters, she said wearing polarized sunglasses would help in spotting turtles just at the surface by glare off the water. And boating speed was another factor, especially in the lagoon.
“The Indian River Lagoon is very shallow, preventing turtles and manatees from being able to dive out of the way of fast-moving vessels,” she said.
The Indispann River County Public Works Cospanstspanl Engineering Division oversees a sea turtle conservation program monitoring the nesting activities of the loggerhead, green and leatherback species found on local shorelines.
As of Oct. 13, the county documented 7,431 loggerhead, 1,823 green and 101 leatherback turtle nests with peak nesting season in July, August and September.
There are altogether five sea turtle species, including hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley, found in waters around the state and four are classified as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species List, spanccording to FWC. The loggerhead is considered threatened.
If you see a struggling hatchling
- If you see a struggling turtle, report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922.
- While hatchlings and turtles crawling toward water “should not be disturbed,” Coastal Connections said a stranded turtle could be reported to its non-emergency line at 772-569-6700 or to the FWC.
- The Indian River County Public Works Coastal Engineering Division oversees a sea turtle conservation program monitoring the nesting activities of the three species found on local shorelines. You can view it at https://www.ircgov.com/publicworks/cospanstspanl/turtles.htm