Hurricane Irma destroys record number of turtle nests on Central Florida coast

By Kevin Spear

 

Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO | Beaches along south Brevard County are a world-class refuge for sea turtles that had a record number of nests just as Hurricane Irma mauled Florida last month.

About half of nearly 16,000 green turtle nests were obliterated in a “devastating” blow to this year’s reproductive efforts of the threatened species, according to scientists.

Remarkably, however, Irma could prove to be a blip in the survival trajectory of green turtles, said Kate Mansfield, director of the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group.

In an astonishing surge, green turtles progressed from rarely appearing in the 1980s at Central Florida’s Atlantic Ocean beaches to dwarfing the longstanding dominance of loggerhead turtles this year.

Getting significant credit for the trend are laws enacted in the U.S. and internationally that protect nests and eggs, and measures that, for example, discourage bright lights on beaches that can disorient the creatures.

“If we keep having these big turtle turnouts on the beach, I think we are going to do all right,” Mansfield said.

A caveat, she and other experts noted, is whether the spate of damaging storms continues, from Matthew a year ago and Irma in September.

“One year’s storm is sad but not a big deal in the big scheme of things,” said Simona Ceriani, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “It’s the frequency of storms that matters.”

 

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