Hurricane Irma brought severe weather to the Treasure Coast, with top wind speeds in St. Lucie County reaching 100 mph on South Hutchinson Island. EAI monitors sea turtle nesting on the southernmost ten miles of Hutchinson Island, in St. Lucie and Martin Counties, and sent biologists out to assess the damage as soon as possible after the storm passed. Sea turtle nesting season begins in March and runs through October, so most nesting was complete when the storm hit. However, many sea turtle nests were impacted by the beach erosion that resulted.
Prior to the storm, EAI documented approximately 4,500 nests on South Hutchinson Island. As the storm passed on September 10th, there were about 1,800 viable nests still incubating; of those, 470 were marked with stakes so we could eventually determine reproductive success. By assessing the number of marked nests that washed out, we could approximate the actual nest loss due to the storm. Nest loss was around 88% in the St. Lucie County portion of our survey area and around 60% in the Martin County portion. Remarkably, some nests still remain on the beach, and we’re continuing to monitor the beach daily. Green turtles, which tend to nest later into the season, are even continuing to nest! Sea turtles are resilient and this season’s losses resulting from Irma likely won’t have a large impact on the species as a whole. Our two photos show an eroded dune on Hutchinson Island following Hurricane Irma and a sea turtle nest exposed in the side of a beach escarpment.