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EAI Autumn Newsletter: September 2017

Hurricane Irma: Impacts to Sea Turtles

Exposed sea turtle nest
A sea turtle nest exposed in the side of a beach escarpment.

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.  

Eroded dune
An eroded dune on Hutchinson Island following Hurricane Irma.

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.

Exciting New Projects

Alligator tracks
An "???" track on Cat Island’s beach.

EAI is excited to announce some of its newest projects which expand both our service offerings and our geographic reach.

As part of the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hired Manson Construction Co. for the Cat Island Beach and Dune Fill Restoration Project in Harrison County, Mississippi. We are a subcontractor to Manson Construction to monitor sea turtle and shorebird nesting and turbidity. We are pleased to be providing the first daily, season-long sea turtle nesting data for Cat Island as an added benefit of this project. The number of loggerhead sea turtle nests documented during this project has exceeded all previous records for Cat Island as well as the state of Mississippi. In addition, our weekly migratory shorebird surveys are providing state and federal wildlife agencies with data regarding the species that utilize the offshore island as resting, foraging, and nesting habitat during the year. Our two photos show a hogey of Sandwich terns and an atypical wildlife track for a sea turtle nesting beach…do you know what made this track on the Cat Island beach?

Sandwich terns
Sandwich terns congregating on Cat Island, Mississippi.

Closer to our backyard, the City of Stuart has recently completed construction of the Haney Creek Stormwater Treatment Area and the Poppleton Creek Tidal Wetlands Creation and Restoration Project. As part of the City’s quality assurance plans, EAI was hired to evaluate the water quality improvements achieved by these projects. EAI will be collecting and analyzing water quality data via a combination of auto-samplers and surface water grab sampling through 2018.

Our Taxonomy Lab is expanding its reach and is processing samples collected from New England to the Gulf Coast! Our most recent sampling locations have come through a new partnership we are glad to have with Stantec. We are now processing ichthyoplankton, meroplankton, and benthic macroinvertebrate samples from off-shore, coastal, inshore, estuarine, and freshwater locations in Texas, Louisiana, the Gulf of Mexico, Georgia, both coasts of Florida, Virginia, and Connecticut. 

NSB Turtle Trackers

EAI’s Amber Stevenson oversees and coordinates the work of the New Smyrna Beach Turtle Trackers and they do an amazing job for sea turtles in Volusia County. The NSB Turtle Trackers are an all-volunteer staff of more than 20, who monitor the beach between Ponce Inlet and Canaveral National Seashore (10.9 miles) every morning for nests. All volunteers have completed stranding training and now assist in responding to injured or dead sea turtles as well. The Turtle Trackers provide valuable public outreach by conducting monthly educational talks and periodically staging at public walkovers to answer sea turtle-related questions. On top of this work, they have adopted a mile of beach and clean it four times a year, participating in the International Coastal Cleanup too. Our partnership with the NSB Turtle Trackers is very rewarding and we’d like to also congratulate them on their receipt of a mini-grant from the Sea Turtle (License Plate) Grant Program for the posting of educational signs on sea turtle nests. Our two photos show the Turtle Trackers at their Pre-Season meeting and Constance Darrisaw completing the marking of a nest.

Turtle tracker
New Smyrna Beach Turtle Tracker Constance Darrisaw marking a new nest.
Turtle tracker meeting
The New Smyrna Beach Turtle Trackers at their Pre-Season Meeting.

Martin County Lionfish Roundup

EAI once again participated in the Martin County Lionfish Round-Up held in June. This year EAI was a proud sponsor and fielded two teams of four divers each. Although we did not finish in first place…or second place…or third place, our teams had a blast and were happy to contribute to this worthy cause. The lionfish ceviche was a hit at the office too! Thanks to our boat and drone captain, Max Toebe, we have some fun video from the event! Click here to view the video.

Research vessel
One of EAI’s Marine Research vessels anchored up during the 2017 Martin County Lionfish Round-Up.
EAI divers catch lionfish
EAI divers with a lionfish caught!

Environmental Permitting Summer School - August 2017

Senior EAI staff attended the 31st Annual Environmental Permitting Summer School in Fort Lauderdale from July 18-21, 2017. The conference covered a variety of topics related to environmental policy and permitting. The EAI team divided and conquered, attending courses on:

  • Environmental policy
  • Energy policy and renewable energy expansion
  • Environmental resources planning, permitting, and conservation in coastal marine habitats
  • Mitigation assessments, banking, and policy updates for protected habitats and the species that rely on those systems
  • Wetland and stormwater management issues, innovations, and policy updates