As Hurricane Dorian strengthens, surf on Florida coast threatens sea turtle eggs

The toll Hurricane Dorian will take from the community in Indian River County, if any at all, is high on residents’ minds as they stock up, hunker down and consider evacuation plans.

Among the most vulnerable in the face of even tropical-storm-force wind and rain are unseen, buried in the sand of the Treasure Coast. The nests of sea turtles pepper the beach, in the shadow of shuttered condominiums, several marked by wooden posts with orange tape. Others are noticeable to those who look closely — mounds of sand right up against sea walls bordering private beachfront properties, with the shallow turtle-shaped indentations right next to them.

Any sliver of the powerful storm will push the surf up higher, eroding the beach and washing away eggs. In a busy season like this one, where Indian River County has recorded more than 6,100 loggerhead nests and nearly 2,300 green turtles nests since April, Dorian could snatch a lot of future hatchlings.

The state says let it happen. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s official position is to let nature run its course. The instruction to the environmental firm Ecological Associates Inc. is to monitor the nest, gather data and survey damage if necessary.

“This is all part of their natural process,” said Samantha Pessolano, a biologist with the firm who serves as the nesting supervisor for marine protected species. “FWC likes to keep the nesting process a natural as possible.”

The sun rises over a private pier in Vero Beach, Florida on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 as Hurricane Dorian continues to pose a potential threat to the coastal town. MATIAS J. OCNER

As the sun rose Sunday, an EAI worker drove south on the sand near Jaycee Park in Vero Beach, stopping to check on nests, look for any abnormalities and take notes. It was part of a regularly scheduled round of checks.

The ATV passed a woman doing yoga at the edge of the water as the ocean chopped. The sun rose from behind clouds at the horizon and gave way to bright morning. The waves weren’t bigger than usual, one local said — not yet.

Shreds of rubbery turtle shells pocked the area near some green turtle nests between a private pier and Jaycee Park. Some appeared to have provided a meal for ghost crabs that prey on turtle nests. Others looked like the turtle babies hatched.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He graduated from the University of Florida.