There is a lot of work and a lot of gear involved with sea turtle conservation, so the picture of this year’s nesting season and Hurricane Dorian’s impact on it won’t be known for a little while.
“It’s a little early to even get people on the islands. We’re still kind of assessing what the status of the infrastructure out there is…,” said Mark Dodd, head of the state Department of Natural Resources’ sea turtle program. “It’s going to be a couple days before we’re able to get people out on the islands and get roads cleared and get equipment running again. The islands we work on, they’re mostly remote islands, and it’s really logistically difficult — without a hurricane — to get to all the beaches.”
He said that when conservation teams leave the islands, they’re not alone.
“We had to move the equipment and kayaks and canoes and ways that we access the more remote parts of the beaches have all been put up for the hurricane,” Dodd said. “So, we’ve got to get all that back into place before we can get to some of these areas.”
Initial reports out of Florida were that the hurricane’s effects on nesting areas weren’t as bad as initially feared. Dodd said that’s basically the hope along the Georgia coast as well.
“Just looking at the tide gauge data … the tides were actually higher prior to the storm during the new moon period,’ Dodd said. “Obviously, with the storm there was a lot of wave energy associated with that, so we expect that we lost some beach, and certainly that we lost some of the nests that were at low elevations on the beach. But, we also think that a lot of nests probably weather the storm — the higher nests on the beach weathered the storm without any negative effect.”
On Jekyll Island after the opening of the causeway Thursday morning, residents and visitors began venturing out to the beaches to check out what happened over the past 48 hours or so. All along the beach, it appeared as though a massive spatula raked and packed the sand from the waterline to the line of the majority of the vegetation.
Several high-tide marks appeared present — the highest point, where the ocean pushed into the vegetation, an area about 10 feet lower marked by small stones, and another area closer to the water line as it stood around noon. Between the rocks and the vegetation, crabs were busy excavating their underground chambers and leaving prodigious amounts of sand in their wake.
Closer to the water, the ocean not only placed on the beach the usual marine vegetation — and more than a few horseshoe crab shells — but a lot of human garbage as well, including plastic bottles, other plastic packaging, beer cans and fishing line and netting.
Driftwood Beach perhaps never looked more driftwood-y as it does now, and the sand-smoothing effect is especially pronounced — as natural erosion takes sand away at the front, there’s a lot more beach at the back. The tides pushed sand deeper into the marsh area, a change to the look of the area seen most dramatically, recently, following Hurricane Irma.
The Jekyll Island Authority announced Thursday that the water and sewer system withstood the hurricane without a problem. Also, the JIA stated, “Initial inspection of all beach crossovers show they are all intact and usable, but please use caution when accessing beaches and bike paths, as there may be debris impacting their use.”
The gift shop at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is now open, but the gallery at the GSTC opens Saturday and the rehabilitation pavilion reopens Sunday with a return to normal operating hours. The Mosaic museum has reopened, as has the convention center, the airport, the guest information center, the golf club, the bike barn and mini golf, the campground and all public restrooms.
Summer Waves reopens Saturday, and limited court access is available at the tennis center.
Over on Cumberland Island, assessment continues as U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, announced late Thursday that the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a grant of more than $3.5 million for repair of the Cumberland docks damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
“As the representative of the entire coast of Georgia, I understand the critical importance of not only preparing for severe weather, but also ensuring recovery,” Carter said in a statement. “This grant is very important as it will work to return the docks to pre-disaster conditions.”