|After the Storm|
by Jackie Orsulak
: After Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene is gone. She left a mess on the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina, though. Most of the damage was done on the sound sides of the islands, with major flooding and destruction. The ocean sides were generally spared.
Extremely high tides with incredibly rough surf has affected the four remaining turtle nests. The stakes marking Nest #15 and Nest #16 disappeared. Luckily, we had placed additional stakes high up in the dunes and measured the distance to the center of the nests from these stakes, so the nests have been remarked. We hope we have them marked properly.
Because the original markers are missing, we do not know whether sand was added or taken away from the nests. We do know there was major washover and probably some standing water on top of the nests. We will just have to sit out at night and hope for the best.
We began sitting out at Nest #15 on Day 59 of incubation. We figure that, with three weeks of cooler weather and the cooling of the ocean water over the nests, hatching would not be as early as our previous nests. We have been protecting the nest with the marsh grass that washed up after the storm. At this time, it is very important that water does not wash over the nest. If some of the turtles have pipped their eggs they need to breathe and will drown if water covers the nest. As soon as the full moon has passed, the tides will not be as high and we can remove our grassy barrier.
So far the turtles have waited for the barrier removal. The waiting is awful for the volunteers due to the swarms of mosquitoes that have bred in all of the standing water from the flooding.
Nest #17 and Nest #18 were spared, and their markers are intact. Because we spray painted the stakes at the sand level, we know that very little sand was added or removed from these two nests. They also probably did not have water standing on them for long periods of time. At this stage in their development, the washovers on Nest #17 and Nest #18 can actually be a good thing. The washover brings the water table up and, when it recedes, it draws oxygen into the nests.
Earlier this summer, the female turtles took about a two-week break from laying nests. Their break conveniently gave the later turtles a safe incubation time in these nests. There were no nests due to hatch immediately following our major evacuation before Irene and during that storm’s aftermath. This gives us hope for the remaining nests.
To add to our excitement, Nest #19 was found on 1 September 2011. That is really late for us to have a nest. We will need some warm fall days for this nest to fully incubate. We can only wait and hope—and slap mosquitoes!
Nest 15 After Hurricane Irene
Nest 15 After Grass Barrier Built
: 30 September 2011 Update - Nest #17
Nest #17 was inventoried to the delight of all attending. After nest sitting for many days and being chased off the beach by lightning, a NEST volunteer checked the nest one morning and found what everyone thought was a large sinkhole. In the following days only three hatchlings emerged.
During excavation, however, we found that we had once again been "snookered" by the turtles. The large hole was not a sinkhole—it was the remains of a mass exodus of 82 hatchlings when no one was present. Besides the empty egg shells, excavators found five live hatchlings (two emerging from their eggs) and five undeveloped eggs.
What a great success after surviving Hurricane Irene. Turtles never cease to amaze us with their resiliency. They truly are one of the most enduring species on the planet.
: 17 October Update - Nest #16
NEST volunteers had been monitoring Nest #16 for any hatching action for several weeks. This nest was much like Nest #15, where the stakes marking the nest area were washed away by Hurricane Irene. When the nest was remarked, we knew there was a chance that the area remarked did not include the actual nest. With only one of the safety markers remaining in the dune we could not be sure which distance to use to determine the center of the nest.
Remember that Nest #15 had two stakes remaining in the dune, so we had two measurements to rely on. Because of the lack of action at this nest, NEST volunteer Peggy Kempf and her team were just checking the nest frequently rather than nest sitting with it each night. With no signs of emergence, the nest area was excavated, excavated and excavated again. The measurements were checked and rechecked to confirm that the team was digging in the right area.
It was just as frustrating as Nest #15—after digging for a long time, no eggs were found. Had we mismarked the nest? Had the eggs been washed away with the original nest markers during the wrath of Hurricane Irene? We have no idea what happened. No matter how hard we try, some things we just never know. It was time to restore the beach to its natural state.
We were blessed with an early nesting season, and we are very thankful for the successful nests that we have had. We have two nests left. Both were laid late in the season. Nest #18 was laid on 13 August 2011. There has not been a single hot day—over 90 degrees, that is—since it was laid. Luckily, because it was late in the season, it was moved high up in the dune and was spared by Hurricane Irene. Water probably splashed over it but did not sit on it for a long time, and only a few inches of sand were added on top of the nest. Nest #19 was laid on 1 September 2011. That turtle waited until after Irene to make her deposit on our beaches. We can only wait, watch and hope for the best with these two nests as we wrap up our most successful nesting season in several years.
Re-Checking Nest 16 Measurements
Team for Nest 16 Digs Out Nest
Restoring the Beach Around Nest 16
About the author:
Jackie Orsulak is a volunteer for NEST (Network for
Endangered Sea Turtles).