Thursday 26 September 2019

Dorian washed out the most sea turtle nests in at least 10 years in Cape Hatteras National Seashore - via Herp Digest

by Jeff Hampton, The Virginian-Pilot, 9/19/2019, Buxton, NC

Hurricane Dorian did its dirty work on Outer Banks sea turtles as well as humans.

The storm raked up the beaches, washing away 30 sea turtle nests in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Another 35 were at least partially damaged.

It is the greatest loss of nests since at least 2009 when the online record begins, according to, a website that tracks North Carolina sea turtles. Three nests were lost before the storm from other causes for a total of 33.

The last time it was this bad was in 2011 after Hurricane Irene struck in August before many nests could hatch. The record shows 32 were lost in large part because of the storm, said William Thompson, lead biological science technician for the park.

Dorian could have been more destructive had it struck earlier in the nesting season, Thompson said.

Still, the destroyed nests amount to only 7 percent of the record 471 nests laid this year, the record shows. In 2011 there were only 147 total nests, so Irene’s impact was 22 percent.

The park service keeps close track of the threatened sea turtles. Each day during the summer, rangers patrol the beaches looking for new nests. The most recent one came Tuesday, but at this late date it is unlikely to survive, said Tracy Ziegler, chief of resource management and science for the national parks of eastern North Carolina.

Three days before Dorian struck, rangers counted 166 viable nests. Most of the rest had already hatched for the season, Ziegler said.

Counts after the storm found that 83 nests remained. Thirty were completely gone, 35 were at least partly damaged and 18 had hatched, he said.

High tides and predators such a raccoons and ghost crabs can also destroy a nest. Rangers relocate some nests laid in the tide zone where the surf can drown the baby turtles. During this record year, park staff relocated 127 nests, at least double the number in past years.

Of the 471 nests this year in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 438 were loggerheads, 32 were green sea turtles and one was a Kemp’s Ridley.

Nesting is a laborious process. Female sea turtles weighing around 300 pounds crawl onto the beach in the summer and dig holes with their rear flippers where they lay about 100 eggs. Afterward, they return to the sea.

The nest incubates under the warmth of the sand for about two months. Sea turtles are known to return to the same beach for generations, and a single female can create more than one nest.

The numbers of the threatened sea turtle nests have surged in recent years. Between 2000 and 2007, sea turtle nest numbers averaged 77 a year, according to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore website. Numbers peaked in 2010 at 153 and then hit records in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and this year.

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