Sea Turtle Update - Post Florence

BHI Sea Turtle Update

Emily Goetz, Coastal Scientist

When we left the island before Hurricane Florence hit (9/11), 8 of our 52 sea turtle nests remained unhatched and protected from predators by cages on the beach. Coming back three weeks later, we were very unsure of what the beaches would look like or if we would even be able to find our cages. Luckily, we were able to locate and excavate the majority of our nests. Two of our nests showed very successful hatching, and two are potentially still incubating. While we did lose two cages to beach erosion and two nests were dug into by coyotes, it is likely that at least two of these nests hatched before they were disturbed, although we cannot know for sure.

Of these eight nests, three were located on South Beach, and five were on East Beach. During the hurricane, South Beach lost about a vertical foot of sand on most of the beach between water’s edge and dune, with a small escarpment forming at the base of the dune. East Beach, on the other hand, received deposits of new sand from wind and water movement during the storm. This is consistent with erosion and accretion patterns that we typically see on our beaches on a smaller scale during less severe weather events.

On South Beach, two cages were washed away entirely. The third nest was laid high enough in the dunes that it was not as severely impacted by erosion; however, a coyote chewed through the cage and dug up the nest, making assessment of nest success difficult.

There was also coyote activity on East Beach, where a coyote dug underneath a partially dislodged cage and dug up the nest. The other four nests on East Beach were relatively undisturbed, albeit almost fully buried by sand. Two of these nests could potentially still be incubating. We will excavate those nests when they reach Day 70 next week. The best news from our nest assessment came from Nests 44 and 45 on East Beach, which we excavated yesterday. Both of these nests clearly hatched before the hurricane reached the island, as we found lots of eggshells in the nests!



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