Effects of Hurricane Andrew on the Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches of South Florida
Abstract:Because of the close overlap of hurricane season (June–November) and sea turtle nesting season (March–November) in the Caribbean and Northwest Atlantic Oceans, hurricanes are a potential cause of damage to sea turtle populations. However, no data has been gathered on either the immediate or long term effects of hurricanes on adult sea turtles or their nesting beaches. Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida on 24 August 1992, provided a unique opportunity to quantify the impact of a category 4 hurricane on six Florida nesting beaches. It was determined that Hurricane Andrew affected turtle nests over a total of 90 miles of beaches on the east and west coasts of Florida. We found that the storm surge associated with the hurricane produced the greatest mortality through nest flooding. The greatest surge effect was felt on beaches closest to the “eye” of the hurricane, where egg mortality was 100%. In areas farther away from the “eye,” the surge was lower and mortality was correspondingly decreased. Detailed data on post-hurricane hatching success, mortality, and cause of death was gathered on eight relocated and eight in situ nests on Fisher Island in Miami, Florida, which suffered from flooding and extensive changes in topography. Sixty-nine percent of the eggs did not hatch after Hurricane Andrew and appeared to have drowned during the storm. Further mortality occurred when surviving turtles suffocated in nests situated in the beach zone where sand had accreted. This later mortality may be substantially reduced if beach topography is returned to normal and beach debris removed after a hurricane.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 1994-05-01
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