By Ron Hayes
Hurricane Irma spared Palm Beach County the worst it could do, and the county’s sea turtle nests seem to have been spared its worst as well.
“In general, the beach was in better shape than we expected,” said Kirt Rusenko, the marine conservationist at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center who monitors nesting turtles along Boca Raton’s coast.
“We lost about 80 nests and 96 nests survived the storm and are still on the beach,” he said. “Pretty decent, considering past storms. Right now we’re monitoring the remaining nests, which so far are hatching out right on schedule.”
As of the week after the storm, Rusenko had counted 1,071 nests on Boca beaches — 767 loggerhead nests, 299 green turtle nests and five leatherback nests.
“There was about 2 feet of sand blown into the dunes, which helps the dunes a lot. Not a whole lot of erosion.” Rusenko said.
In the full 2016 season, from March 1 to Oct. 31, a total of 767 nests was counted in the same 5-mile stretch, from Highland Beach south to the Broward County line.
In Ocean Ridge, the county’s Environmental Resources Management department tallied 582 as of late September — 492 loggerheads, 88 greens and two leatherbacks. The total count last year was 637, according to Kelly Martin, the department’s environmental analyst.
Jackie Kingston, who holds a permit to monitor nesting on the 3-mile stretch from Pelican Lane in Delray Beach to Adams Road in Ocean Ridge, estimated that her team of volunteers has counted more than 700 loggerhead nests this season, more than 500 green turtle nests and five leatherback nests. If that number holds, Kingston said, it would mark a 10-year high. When Irma arrived, about 300 nests were on her stretch of beach, Kingston said, but though the storm destroyed about 100 of those nests, the rest were still healthy.
The total number of turtle nests in the county won’t be released by the state Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission until early November. During the 2016 season, 35,851 nests were tallied along the county’s coast — 33,892 loggerhead nests, 1,582 greens and 377 leatherback, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report.