Irma: How Did the Turtles Fare?

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Not only do people love Florida, but turtles do, too! Much of what little childrearing turtles do – which mostly amounts to digging a hole, plopping in a hundred or so eggs, then filling up the hole and dashing madly back to the sea before anyone notices – takes place in Florida. Of the seven species of sea turtles, five live in Florida, and of those, three – the loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles – nest in Broward County.

Turtle nesting season runs from March 1 to October 31 of each year, which virtually matches the hurricane season, blowing as it does from June 1 to November 30 of each aforesaid year. And since judging by their scaly little faces turtles have been around since the beginning of time, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ve seen a hurricane or two in the past. Nonetheless turtles are fiercely protected by the State of Florida, whose Marine Turtle Protection Act makes it unlawful to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or attempt to engage in any such conduct to marine turtles, turtle nests, and/or turtle eggs.”

Pursuing a turtle can’t be too hard because they don’t move too fast:  you could be in a wheelchair on a sand dune and still outrun a turtle.  But beware: do not harass a turtle because turtle-harassing is a felony, and felonies are not good ideas.  And because we love our turtles in Florida, the City of Fort Lauderdale has thoughtfully adopted an ordinance to reduce the impact of artificial light on turtle hatchlings: it’s common knowledge that turtles are dreadfully near-sighted and don’t wear Ray-Bans, so it’s “lights out” on the beach during season, even for prestigious destinations such as the Harbor Beach Marriott. Look at the beach photo at the top of our Home Page – taken by moi on a blazing hot August day (you’re welcome but I’m no martyr, I did it for copyright reasons) – and you’ll see red ribbons wrapped around wooden stakes.  No they are not vampire graves nor are they crime scenes (yet): the ribbons cordon off the turtle nests that have been mapped to protect the eggs. Though you might not be tar-and-feathered, step on a nest and a lot of angry beachgoers will wrestle you to the ground till your entire body is covered in uncomfortable sand and you’re under arrest and handcuffed away!

We protect our turtle nests but Mother Nature does not:  the bad news is there are no precise figures on how many turtle nests were lost during Irma, though it’s a pretty safe bet that none were gained.  The good news is that Irma didn’t hit in the peak months of June and July, and at the end of the day the turtles have gone through this before and have survived, and they will go through this again and survive. The only recommendation the authorities give if you see an exposed egg: it won’t scramble well so just leave it be – it’s the way it’s supposed to be.


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