Originally created 09/22/99

Floyd takes toll on loggerhead sea turtles

BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Hurricane Floyd destroyed about 5 percent of Georgia's record number of loggerhead sea turtle nests, with Cumberland Island hardest hit, according to state wildlife authorities who assessed the damage.

Last week's storm, which churned up 40-foot waves offshore, wiped out at least 109 nests waiting to hatch and eroded some beach habitat vital to the protected species, said Mark Dodd, a state Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist responsible for monitoring sea turtle activity.

"It's not the big disaster that we originally feared. We dodged a very big bullet," Mr. Dodd said.

Nests on northeast Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina beaches suffered a similar fate, said Sandy MacPherson, national sea turtle coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Our suspicion is that we lost the majority of remaining nests," said Ms. MacPherson, who is based in Jacksonville, Fla. "But the good news is that a good number of the nests had already hatched out and the hatchlings had escaped into the ocean by the time Floyd hit."

Loggerheads, a threatened species, are the most prevalent species of sea turtle to nest on Georgia beaches. This season was the best in a decade, according to DNR nesting records.

Georgia biologists documented 1,420 loggerhead nests this season, up from 1,064 last year.

The previous Georgia record for loggerhead nests was 1,378 in 1994. Each nest can have about 100 to 120 eggs, biologists say.

"There is no way to tell how many of the hatchlings that emerged right before the storm hit might have survived," Mr. Dodd said.

The hurricane's tidal and storm surge cut a ragged swath across nesting sites on the barrier islands.

"There was significant damage on some islands, but the storm had little or no effect on others," Mr. Dodd said.

Cumberland Island in Camden County lost about 90 nests -- roughly a third of its remaining loggerhead sites. Beach erosion also claimed an estimated 20 to 30 feet of shoreline on the north end of the island, Mr. Dodd said.

Other major losses included seven of 10 remaining nests on Sea Island in Glynn County, and nine of 28 on Sapelo Island in McIntosh County, which also lost about 8 feet of beach, Mr. Dodd said.

Mr. Dodd said Ossabaw Island in Chatham County, which led the state with 290 nests this year, lost only one out of the 53 waiting to hatch. There were no apparent signs of beach erosion on the island, he said.

Jekyll Island, also in Glynn County, lost two of 10 nests remaining but did not have nesting beach erosion, he said.

A damage assessment was not available for the nesting grounds either on Wassaw Island in Chatham County or Blackbeard Island in McIntosh County -- both major sea turtle sites, Mr. Dodd said.

Mr. Dodd said the orientation of the islands' nesting beaches in relation to the passing hurricane apparently determined the extent of the damage.


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