The Golden Isles are quite experienced with this dance and while Hurricane Dorian puts its own stamp on the 2019 remix, there’s enough evidence already on hand to show what we might expect going into Thursday, Friday and the weeks ahead.
For the wildlife.
Few places are so tied into their natural beauty and native creatures as Jekyll Island, and the Jekyll Island Authority put a fair amount of work into recovery efforts the last two years after a series of tropical cyclones that notably included hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
The ocean already rose with vigorous waves to the edge of dune fields at high tide Tuesday, previewing likely heavy beach erosion and sand movement. That comes after the gradual rebuilding of dues laid waste by Irma’s tides.
“On the beach and the dunes, even though to the human eye it looks like a lot of damage — we did have some dunes washed away, and thank goodness they were there to protect everything that lies behind them,” Ben Carswell, JIA conservation director, said Aug. 29. “But wildlife and plant communities have adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to these major disturbances. The dunes, that sand doesn’t wash too far away, and they start building back up pretty remarkably quickly.”
The growth of small dunes in wide dune fields became beneficial for the migratory shorebirds that call this area a temporary home.
“A lot of shorebirds really like to nest in small, young dunes with really sparse vegetation, and we didn’t have a lot of that before the hurricane,” Carswell said. “We had a lot of maturing dunes with shrubs coming in, and thick vegetation. We’ve see the Wilson’s plover population on Jekyll, for example — which was down to maybe less than 10 nests a year prior to the hurricanes — has jumped back up and we’re seeing upwards of 30 nests a year this past season.”
The JIA also went through an extensive tree replanting process that Carswell said would have been done to an extent, regardless of tree loss during previous storms, but more work went into it because of trees blown over and the like.
“We have done some (replanting) in natural areas, but, most of that’s focused on park spaces, the historic district, along some of our bike path corridors, stuff like that,” Carswell said. “In a place like the historic district, for example, we have these majestic live oak trees — 300, 400 years old, maybe more — that are really an important part of the character of Jekyll Island. And even in the historic district part of the ecology, we have a lot of wildlife that depends on those trees.”
Sea turtle conservationists have been busy for days preparing for the eventual arrival of Dorian — there are still nests in the sand that have yet to hatch.
Haley Watkins at Sea Island reported Aug. 31 that staff inventoried 13 nests and left 18 nests on the beach to continue incubation. Workers on all the barrier islands have been busy removing screens from nests and pulling up stakes from inactive nests. Caleigh Quick on Ossabaw Island reported Aug. 30 they pulled 99 screens and inventoried 11 nests.
According to Mark Dodd, sea turtle program coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, the crew on Cumberland Island completed more than 45 nest inventories in one day during their hurricane prep.
Dorian could have a significant effect on sea turtle hatching numbers by the time it’s all over. Irma went through the area in the second week of September 2017, and tides and storms accounted for around two-thirds of all nest losses in Georgia for that year, with 481 nests — 21.9 percent — lost. The losses were 12.4 percent on Jekyll, 24.6 percent on Cumberland, 4.4 percent on Little Cumberland Island and 9 percent on Little St. Simons Island. There was only one nest lost on Sea Island for the year, according to seaturtle.org.
Over at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, workers Monday whisked those patients out of harm’s way and up to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
David Steen, an ecologist at the GSTC, posted a series of videos and photos to Twitter of the journey, explaining that the turtles will return to Jekyll once it’s safe to come back.
The tweet thread can be seen at https://is.gd/turtleevac.