It had been exactly two weeks since the storm rolled through and still there wasn’t a single boat within earshot or sight. The water was flat as glass. The air: silent.
This wildlife reconnaissance mission had started on a low note. Just 20 minutes in, a 4-foot-long dead sea turtle floated ominously at the entrance of the bay. All of the mangroves were brown, the water clouded and gray.
But before long, a breath of air broke the silence. Then another, and another. In such a quiet place, the abrupt gasps for oxygen seemed melodramatic, almost comedic. But most of all, they were heart-lifting. Over the next hour, at least half a dozen sea turtles popped for air, then carried on their way.
Turtles are facing many hurdles for survival as a species, but a hurricane is low on the list, says Bette Zirkelbach of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon. “Turtles are so resilient, all they need is a little pocket of air,’” she says. “But one of the hard things to see is that we’re in the middle of nesting season.”
Some active nests on beaches were washed away, while other nesting beaches are completely gone. Luckily, female turtles lay several or more nests a year. “It’s part of what happens and why turtles lay so many eggs,” she adds. “They didn’t survive the planet 200 million years without being creative.”
Since the storm, the Turtle Hospital has been hosting a half-dozen post-hatchlings that were blown back on land, as well as two big loggerheads that were entangled, one of which lost its flipper in a trap line.
“I expect with the debris right now, we are going to see more of that stuff,” said Zirkelbach, adding that they depend on boaters to report injured turtles. She also asked people to keep their eyes out for turtles in areas they aren’t used to seeing them, such as boat hatches as well as inland, where they might have been deposited by high waters.
Report injured or distressed turtles by radio to the Coast Guard, the 24-hour stranding hotline 305-481-7669, or 888-404-FWCC (3922).