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Florida sea turtle nests hit hard by Hurricane Dorian

Flagler County Sheriff's Office
Flagler County Sheriff's Office

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While Florida was relatively unscathed by Hurricane Dorian, the strong surf and high tides took a toll on the East Coast. 

The damage to the beaches came during the heart of sea turtle nesting season, and while Dorian didn't produce the devastating winds on Florida's East Coast that had been anticipated, it did cause large waves, which resulted in significant beach erosion.

"Not only can that affect this year's nest, but if there's been significant erosion, the habitat that's available for turtles as well as beach nesting birds just won't be there next year without intervention," said Julie Wraithmell, the executive director of Audubon Florida.

During the storm an officer seen in a video posted to the Flagler County Sheriff's Office Facebook page helped save baby turtles.

"The Southern part of Brevard County is one of the most densely nested beaches in the country," said Erin Seney, a scientist who is part of the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group. "We're probably looking at a pretty high nest loss."

Teams are surveying the beaches, but exact losses likely won't be known for weeks.

On a positive note, while nesting grounds on the east coast suffered losses, turtles don't put all their eggs in one basket. 

Nests along the Gulf of Mexico got away unscathed.

"We can be hopeful that the nesting activities both for turtles as well as for beach nesting birds elsewhere in the state will provide some resiliency for the overall population," Wraithmell said.

Wraithmell added that while damaging, the greatest threat to turtle nesting grounds is not hurricanes, but human infrastructure, in particular, seawalls, which can cause significant beach erosion.

If you come across damaged nests or even surviving hatchlings, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission urges you not to interfere. Instead, you should report the nests directly to the agency by calling the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC.