When Hurricane Idalia passed through the Tampa Bay area in August, it caused significant damage to Pinellas County beaches.
The storm surge destroyed sand dunes along the coast, leading to tens of millions of dollars in damage.
While the economic toll was quickly apparent, the environmental impact on beach wildlife, particularly sea turtle nests, was harder to determine. Biologists at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium reported that of the 75 known sea turtle nests on county beaches before Idalia, only 14 survived.
The storm also contributed to fewer observed nests during the 2023 nesting season, compared to the previous year. The loss of dune lines resulted in the loss of almost all turtle nests laid before Idalia in flooding and higher-than-normal tides on the region’s barrier islands.
Although sea turtle nests continue to thrive along Florida’s Atlantic coast, Pinellas County logged 227 sea turtle nests this year, compared to 313 last year.
At least seven of the 16 turtle nests on Anclote Key were lost in the storm surge, but nine loggerhead nests had hatched before the storm arrived.
The long-term effect of Idalia on the turtle population is not yet clear, but storms can make sand dunes more compact, making it harder for turtles to lay eggs in the future.
Despite the damage, there were some positive outcomes this nesting season, including a “great hatchout” of at least 12,000 hatchlings making it to the Gulf of Mexico, and the logging of two green sea turtle nests on Pinellas beaches, which is a rare occurrence for the region.
It was expected that there would be a lower nesting total in 2023, even before Hurricane Idalia hit, as nesting females tend to lay eggs on Pinellas beaches on a three-year cycle.
After laying multiple nests in a season, mothers take a long break, regaining their energy before laying eggs again.
Additionally, sea turtles are still being disoriented by artificial lights on the shoreline in Florida’s most densely populated county.
Hatchlings and even mothers are thrown off by the bright lights, which happened roughly 100 times this season, according to Oakley.
At least 240 times this year, sea turtles reached the shore but returned to the water without laying eggs.
To increase nesting success, turtles prefer dark, clean, and flat beaches. Shielding light from reaching the shoreline, cleaning up trash, and knocking down sandcastles or filling in holes can make a big difference for sea turtles.
If anyone sees turtle hatchlings in disarray or someone harassing a nesting sea turtle, they can contact the aquarium’s local stranding hotline at 727-441-1790, ext. 1.
When Do Sea Turtle Eggs Hatch?
The incubation period for most sea turtle eggs is between 50 to 70 days, and the temperature must be warm for the baby sea turtles to hatch within two months. Baby sea turtles typically hatch between 9 pm to 5 am.
Different species of sea turtles lay eggs at different times, resulting in varying hatching periods worldwide. For example, leatherbacks lay eggs in Florida between March to August, and baby leatherbacks should hatch between May to October.
Loggerhead sea turtles’ nest in June, and the nesting period lasts until late July, resulting in hatching occurring in August and September.
Kemp’s Ridleys nest in Texas’s Gulf Shores from March to May, and the hatchlings emerge from the nests in late May or early July.
Green and hawksbill turtles lay their eggs on the remote shores of the Parthenian Islands of Malaysia from late April to June, and the hatchlings break free from the eggs in late June and August.
As evident, the timing of sea turtle hatching varies. However, most sea turtle eggs hatch during summer when the weather is warm. Interested in learning more? Check out this article on When Do Sea Turtle Eggs Hatch?