Sea Turtles and Hurricanes

What do sea turtles and hurricanes have in common, you might wonder?

Well, probably you don’t wonder; I surely didn’t, but I did acquire an interesting bit of anecdotal information about them this past week. It is probably an old wives tale (or an old sea man’s tale) but it could be that nesting females have an innate sense about severe weather, weather that isn’t even on the radar yet. So when it’s nesting season, and some of the females seek higher ground to dig their nest and bury their eggs, it could be considered a prognostic indicator that the upcoming tropical storm season is expected to be more intense.

The official hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30. Most hurricanes will develop in August and September, but serious tropical storms can occur earlier in the summer.

I am lucky enough to live at the beach, and so I can see with my own eyes when the turtles have nested in our vicinity.  The Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol makes runs up and down our coastline daily in special beach vehicles equipped with supplies that help identify and mark new nests. I love seeing those little all-terrain vehicle and spying a new nest on our beach.  The volunteers who run the patrols are truly dedicated to protecting these magnificent creatures. They will erect the orange barrier around each nest that keeps non-human predators away from them.

Although it’s illegal, some people still do disturb the nests, stealing the eggs or otherwise destroying them. The sea turtle patrol can estimate when a nest is nearing maturity and can usually predict its hatching within a 5-day time frame. So if the estimated gestation period is about two months and I have seen when a new nest is identified, I, too can track its progress and guesstimate its due date.  It’s extremely exciting to witness a nest hatch, which I did, a couple of times. The last time was perfect. I was alone with my daughter and a friend, peering onto the nest at dusk,  and we saw the sand within the orange barrier moving about, before any turtle had made its way out. Soon, they emerged, about 102 of them, climbing up and out and off they went, waddling toward the sea. This photo is what it looks like when over one hundred baby turtles have just hatched.
(Photo from Tracks in the Sand: Sea Turtles and Their Protectors, available now here

I was practically jumping up and down with excitement, thrilled to have the entire experience to myself. The Sea Turtle Patrol will also rescue sick, wounded or deceased turtles and send them to the proper facility. There are scores of dedicated volunteers up and down the coastlines where sea turtles come, to protect, rescue, and keep statistics on these ocean creatures and their habits.

Living near the beach – for me – is a special and unique lifestyle, which I love. Hurricane season is the only part of beachlife that tugs at me with, well, fear. 2004 Florida was whacked with four major, named storms that tore across the state wreaking havoc and serious damage to homes, businesses and the coastline. That was my first real experience with a hurricane season. The following year Katrina came. I’ve since learned to monitor the National Hurricane Weather site for the development of tropical storm activity, and am practicing anxiety control for my own personal mental health. Unlike tornadoes, at least with hurricanes, residents can prepare and evacuate, though the idea of that entire process feels quite overwhelming.

In 2009, the Atlantic basin didn’t spew too many storms but this year, everyone is predicting an active and perhaps intense season. I’ve talked with two area meteorologists about this, and they’re concurring with the National Hurricane Center’s prediction about this year’s tropical storms and hurricanes. I can see that some of the nests are being dug higher than usual, up into the dune line,
and that old wives’ tale might be fun to talk about but has no real scientific correlation to hurricane activity.  Still, in a season such as this one, when the meteorologists are predicting an intense storm season, it’s anecdotal information that’s interesting to note.

The other night I met Frank Gromling, author of Tracks in the Sand: Sea Turtles and Their Protectors . Frank is active within his sea turtle patrol in the Volusia/Flagler County area and told me the same thing. They, too, are finding that some nests are buried much higher up on the beach this year (but some where buried so close to the water that their sea turtle patrol did have to move the nest to a higher, safer location).  It’s amazing, he said, and yes, it does appear to that some nesting turtles may be sensing the sea and the sea and the impending weather patterns.

If all these National Hurricane Center’s predictions (and female intuition of some of the nesting females!) does play out, watch this site for hurricane and tropical storm coverage, from a fretful beachlifer’s point of view. My colleague Nick Lulli, a budding newscaster and meteorologist is practically squirming with the anticipation of an intense storm season. He doesn’t live near the ocean as I do, so he’s eyeing my home as his ‘hurricane central’ and plans to do as much live broadcasting of the storms as possible. I’ve committed to being the color commentator, but he knows that we are at odds over what our respective hopes actually are for this hurricane season. I love my home by the beach, and my life here, but heaven help me if Jim Cantore arrives in town. That’s when I know that trouble is coming our way.

So stay tuned, people. We’ll truly be your local reporters for all things hurricanes and tropical storms, weather patterns, and their effects on life at the beach. Between the two of us, the stories will be flowing. Jim Cantore and his Weather Channel resources better make room for this beachlifer and her crew in their bunker, while my family will be safely ensconsed in a concrete home further inland.

Let’s see if those female ‘higher ground’ nesters and the weather people are right. Here’s to hoping it’s a ‘marine myth’, and an over-estimated storm season. I’ll raise my bottle of soda to that.


  1. Nick Lulli says:

    Things are heating up!

    As you said, "we have to be ready to face it if it comes."


  2. Sammi says:

    Hurricanes scare me!! Where would you evacuate to? I'd hate to be caught in one :o(

    How amazing are animals. Its funny how in touch with nature all other creatures seem to be except humans. Bad really.

  3. Shellbelle says:

    I had to evacuate a number of times when I lived in Indian Rocks Beach (a barrier island on the west coast) and then we finally moved a couple of miles inland into a no-flood zone. Even that didn't help in 2004 when the hurricanes knocked out our power for four days!

    Now I've been told by the locals here in Saint Marys that they've never had a hurricane here. They pass right by because of the way we're set off the Gulf stream.

    They're going to shoot an indie film here in August called Eye of the Hurricane. I hope that's as close as I get to one this year. Saint Marys is going to represent a coastal Florida town. I thought I left all that behind, lol.

  4. Rachel M. says:

    Funny I've been reading your blog for just over a year now because I remember the hurricane postings from last year. I'm also hoping for a mild season as always but still working on preparations non-the less!

  5. C.C. says:

    Hope it is a mild season for you. I found your blogpost quite fascinating, sea turtles are so cool! I hope your lovely beach hasn't been contaminated by the oil spill yet and remains clean.

  6. simpledaisy says:

    How interesting. Sure hope you have a mild season. I couldn't imagine having to evacuate my home….

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