Eastern Florida escaped the worst of Hurricane Irma, but some of its littlest, most defenseless residents—recently hatched baby sea turtles—were battered by the storm.
As Irma headed north up the Florida peninsula Monday morning as a downgraded tropical storm, residents in Fort Pierce woke up to inspect the damage along the coast. And one sight they saw was heart-wrenching: trapped and stranded little turtles, floundering in mounds of seaweed.
“I had to do something,” a man on the beach named Eric told WPTV.
He quickly got to work, putting wet sand and water in buckets and gathering dozens and dozens of sea turtles in them. Others quickly jumped in to help, armed with their own buckets—and armed with advice from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on how best to help the struggling sea creatures.
At first, FWC told the volunteers to put the turtles back in the water, according to WPTV, but the current and the waves were too rough for the sea turtles to swim out into the water. That’s when the agency suggested they collect them in buckets with water and sand.
FWC told the volunteers that it would return later in the day to get the turtles.
About 20 miles south at Bathtub Beach a separate group of volunteers were trying to release baby turtles in a nearby lagoon, which at least one official said wasn’t the best way to help the turtles.
“If the hatchlings were in serious danger, they should have put them back in the ocean,” Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society on Hutchinson Island, told the Treasure County Palm.
Perry told the Palm that, unless the little turtles are immediate danger, they shouldn’t need a helping hand from humans.
Ahead of the storm, experts predicted the hurricane could be rough on turtles.
“Some of those nests, especially those closest to the water, will get washed out,” Hannah Deadman, a spokesperson for the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, told ABC News. “The eggs can get scattered and that leaves them not viable.”
Luckily, it’s relatively late in the turtles’ hatching season, according to ABC.
“Since we're outside peak nesting season, we’re not going to have as much loss as if the hurricane came in July,” Deadman said.
The group of volunteers at Fort Pierce rescued between 50 and 60 baby turtles by 10 a.m., according to WPTV, and found about 20 that didn’t survive the storm.