The storm also appears not to have damaged any sea turtle nests despite high surf.
Sometimes, no matter how good the surrogate is, it takes a mother’s touch.
While Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers were making plans as Tropical Storm Isaac approached on Sunday, Mother Nature put her own plan into action.
Low pressure weather systems cause sea turtle eggs to hatch, giving the hatchlings a fighting chance to get to the Gulf before a storm inundates the nests on the beach, according to Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox.
Too long under water, and eggs in the nests don’t survive.
Sure enough, Turtle Watch volunteers reported a rash of early hatchings on Sunday and Monday, Fox said.
“People were calling us all night telling us about nests hatching,” she said, adding that one woman called 911 and was referred to Fox.
As of Monday afternoon, no nests were inundated and no nests had eggs washing out to sea, she said.
Nature also is making up for damage done to turtle nests by Tropical Storm Debby in June, according to Meghan Koperski of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The storm washed away stakes that marked nests, leaving most of the nests unaccounted for. Many triangulation stakes placed in higher dunes that were used to assist in determining GPS coordinates of nests also were washed or blown away during Debby, Fox said.
But since then, 177 nests have been laid, as of last Friday. This year has been a record season for sea turtle nesting on Anna Maria Island, with 356 nests laid. The 15-year average is 155; the last record season was 244 nests in 1999, according to Turtle Watch.
“Turtles have adapted their nesting strategy to accommodate for natural events such as hurricanes,” Koperski said. “Each nesting female turtle deposits several nests throughout the duration of the nesting season, essentially hedging her bets to make sure that even if a storm hits at some point during the nesting season, there is a high probability that at least a few of her nests will incubate successfully without being impacted by a storm.”
In 2004, when Florida sustained direct hits from Charlie, Francis and Jeanne, 42 percent of loggerhead sea turtle nests in the state hatched, she said, with the number of hatchlings from those nests within the normal range.
Following FWC guidelines, Turtle Watch volunteers did not relocate nests in advance of Isaac; if they find a nest where eggs are washing out into the Gulf, they are allowed to rebury the eggs on dry beach.
The public is not permitted to dig up nests to save eggs or pick up eggs on the beach, and incubating eggs is strictly prohibited, even for permit holders like Turtle Watch, Koperski said.