Debby hits turtles hard
Turtle WATCH | Submitted
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch coordinator Glenn Wiseman
posts an area near the BeachHouse parking lot, where a
loggerhead sea turtle nest was laid before T.S. Debby
hit the beach and washed away the original stakes
that marked the nest.
Just about this time each year on Anna Maria Island beaches, the first sea turtle nest of the season hatches.
When it does, it will be even more of a joy than usual, since Tropical Storm Debby wreaked havoc last week with the loggerheads, a threatened species.
Beaches were eroded so badly that some nests were uncovered; Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring relocated five nests to higher ground, including a rare, endangered green turtle nest.
Some nests were buried in more sand than their mothers had supplied, which may make it a struggle for the hatchlings to get out.
Some nests undoubtedly were washed into the Gulf, where the eggs will not survive.
And some nests are missing, with Debby blowing away or washing away their stakes, which littered the beaches last week. Using GPS to find the nests only works if the triangulation stakes remain in place, which many did not, Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox said.
There’s no way to know how many of the 180 turtle nests laid before the storm will survive until 65 days after the last day of the storm – the length of the average nest incubation time, she said.
Meanwhile, at least 29 sea turtles have laid nests since Debby passed, in a surge caused by their inability to come ashore during the storm, Fox said.
It’s a record.
Turtle nesting this season on Anna Maria Island won’t end until later this month, but it has already surpassed last year’s total of 145 nests, and the 15-year average of 155, with 209 nests laid since the season began on May 1. The worst year for nesting produced 94 nests in 2002, while the best year produced 244 in 1999.
Officials hope the record will help offset Debby’s losses.
Fighting for space
With the beaches eroded to pre-renourishment levels in some places, sea turtles are struggling for space, Fox said.
Even before Debby struck, turtles had laid nests in front of two stairways leading to the beach, and under a catamaran.
After Debby, they’ve been colliding with beach furniture, even when it has been pulled up as far on the beach as possible.
On Friday night at Bradenton Beach Club, a mother sea turtle trying to nest got caught in stacked beach chairs that had been locked together with a cable. Based on the tracks in the sand, the turtle dragged the stack of chairs some distance before getting free, Fox said, adding that she can’t tell whether said, adding that she can’t tell whether she laid her nest or not.
At Silver Surf, where the turtle nested under the catamaran, turtles are bumping into chairs “all over the place,” she said, because the beach is so much smaller since Debby hit.
People should remove everything completely off the beach at night to allow nesting and hatching turtles a clear path to and from the Gulf, Fox said; the law requires it.
“Now more than ever, it’s important for people to turn off their beach facing lights. No flashlights, no camera flashes on the beach. Close your blinds at night,” she said. “Give the turtles a chance to come back.”
With several long-buried stairways to the beach uncovered by Debby, the last thing Fox wanted to see last week was a brand new one.
Storm erosion prompted former Holmes Beach Commissioner Al Robinson to order a stairway built near property he owns across from Walgreens in Holmes Beach. He did so without a state permit from the Department of Environmental Protection, according to Holmes Beach City Code Officer David Forbes.
“We passed this to DEP,” which may issue him an “after-the-fact” permit, he said, adding that the stairway does not appear to have impacted sea oats or sand dunes, which would be a violation of state law.
But it could be a turtle obstacle, as a stairway was earlier this year at LaPlage in Holmes Beach, he said.
DEP did not return phone calls requesting information.
Another turtle nest laid last month near a stairway at the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach was relocated before the storm to a safer, higher area west of the restaurant’s beach parking lot, said Fox, who disagrees with the city’s recent decision to allow cars to park on the beach, saying that it is a potential turtle nesting area.
On Monday afternoon, as Debby was blowing, Mike Shannon of the BeachHouse discovered that the stakes were gone and the area where they had been was underwater, and that the nearby rock seawall had holes in it.
After the storm passed, Turtle Watch staked out the area again, unsure exactly where the nest was. As Glenn Wiseman was working on the stakes, heavy equipment began pushing sand over the rocks, said Fox, who asked officials whether the restaurant had a permit.
The restaurant does not need a permit to fill in where the storm washed out some of the rip rap, Bradenton Beach building official Steve Gilbert said.
“One more good storm and we will have structures that will be substantially damaged,” he said, adding that the storm left some beaches so rocky that in some areas, there is no good turtle nesting habitat.
“The rocky sand or water goes up to sheer cliffs,” he said.
If you find an unmarked nest, call Turtle Watch at 941-778-5638. If you find turtle nest stakes, bring them to any Island city hall.