Hurricane Irma may have gutted some sea turtle nests on local beaches and flung baby squirrels out of their nests, but it’s not said to be the worst wildlife damage seen.
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox said volunteers estimated about 25 nests were lost.
“We have gone through no-name storms during nesting season that have taken much more than this one did,” Fox said.
There have been 488 nests recorded on the island as of Sept. 8, meaning more than 24,000 hatchlings have crawled their way to the Gulf of Mexico. This number already surpasses records calculated for all of last year by 53 nests and nearly 6,000 baby turtles.
High winds from the storm plucked some of the wooden stakes that marked where the nests lay, but Fox said the eggs could still be in the ground.
“Even though there are stakes down, we have recovered some of those nests by following GPS and restaking,” she said.
The black skimmers nesting on Holmes Beach had moved a couple of blocks north, Fox said, but she’s concerned about the 40 juveniles who can’t fly.
“We need to be very careful of the rack line,” she explained, noting the collection of seaweed pushed by the high surf toward shore. The birds like to rest and forage in the rack lines, and could be stepped on.
On Mote Marine Laboratory’s turtle turf from Longboat Key to Venice, officials started on Wednesday to assess the nests. Hayley Rutger, Mote’s content development manager, said it may take a week or more to figure out which nests were spared any damage, which had hatched, which were washed over but potentially viable and which were completely lost.
From the last update from Mote from earlier this month, this turtle season so far brought 4,421 loggerhead turtle nests and 80 green sea turtle nests along the 35-mile patrol area.
If nests are being coated with waves, it’s OK, Rutger said.
“(The nest is) designed to drain, so we tell (people) to leave it alone,” she said.
But Mote’s sea turtle program can be contacted at 941-388-4331 if anyone sees eggs exposed to the air or hatchlings headed in the opposite direction of the water on any beaches from Longboat Key to Venice. Rutger said any hatchling that is walking away from the ocean can be put into a bucket with a layer of sand — not in water or air conditioning — and a thin towel over the bucket as Mote is called.
While Wildlife Inc. Education and Rehabilitation Center is relying on three generators to power their Bradenton Beach headquarters, they haven’t stopped their operations.
Since Irma passed over earlier in the week, the nonprofit has collected about 40 baby squirrels, with more expected. The latter half of hurricane season usually coincides with squirrel season, said the nonprofit’s president Ed Straight.
“We’re getting calls all the time about baby squirrels,” Straight said.
A great blue heron, raccoon, screech owl, pelican and a duck, among other creatures, are also recovering after the storm.
“Most things just got hit by something blowing,” he said.
Even though they’re waiting on the lights to return, there is one upside.
“The good news is we have it so warm, we don’t have to worry about the incubators,” Straight laughed.