Green Sea Turtle, Lauderdale By The Sea, Florida, May 2, 2023 by Charles Rotter

Sea Turtles, Florida Lore, and Hurricane Prediction

This article is a about hypothesis based on folklore and its potential plausibility. It is not presented as a scientific study.

Turtle nesting season has begun in Florida. A bartender, “A”, at my local watering hole is a big turtle enthusiast. So I let “A” know that on my recent walks along the beach, I’ve been seeing lots of new roped-off nests popping up as the nesting season begins.

“A” asked me how far away the nests were located from the water. This is something I hadn’t considered and hadn’t really taken note of. She explained that many locals believe that if a hurricane season is going to be intense the turtles would place their nests up the beach, farther away from the surf than normal. So, a nesting season where turtles lay their eggs close to the high tide line is a prediction for a calm season.

In subsequent walks I paid attention to where the nests are located on the beach. As luck would so have it, this month we had a big flood of seaweed at the same time the King tide occurred. This clearly marked the high tide level making it easy to spot. It turns out that every turtle nest I’ve seen this season are located just above the King tide line.

Sea Turtle Nest on Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida, May 2023, by Charles Rotter

According to Florida folklore this will be calm storm season. The incubation period for sea turtles is 30 to 90 days. A prediction three months out, and subsequent change in nesting behavior would have a tremendous evolutionary advantage on breeding success.

Nests placed farther than necessary from the water expose the eggs to dehydration and excess predation, especially on that precarious night the young turtles hatch and make a dash for the water. Sea birds and crabs lie in wait for such events.

When nests are placed too close to the water the risk of drowning the eggs occurs,

For the eggs to survive and have a chance of hatching, sea turtles must lay their eggs on sandy beaches. As they are developing, the embryos breathe air through a membrane in the eggs, and so they cannot survive if they are continuously covered with water.

as well as the physical danger of being washed away in the storm.

Strong wave action can also cause beaches to erode, washing sand away. This can expose sea turtle eggs, leaving them prone to drying out or predation. They can also destroy the nests completely, washing the eggs into the sea where they will drown.

Sea turtles have been around for around 150 million years. If it this level of predictive accuracy for seasonal storm levels were somehow possible, that’s plenty of time for selective pressure to cause turtles to evolve this survival edge. Whatever the turtles may be using to forecast, be it currents, temperature, salinity, barometric pressure, if it’s possible, they would likely have evolved to be able to do it.

We should hope this folklore is true, and then someday we may be able to use the same indicators the turtles use to improve our seasonal storm predictions, (which haven’t been very accurate the last few years).


Addendum. Here’s a photo from July of last year helping errant hatchlings get to the Ocean after they’ve headed in the wrong direction.

Sea Turtle Rescue, July 30, 2020, by Charles Rotter
Sea Turtle Rescue, July 30, 2020, by Charles Rotter
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May 9, 2023 2:07 pm

Lets see how this compares with the national hurricane center’s prediction – They forecast 13 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 10, 2023 1:10 am

Your link says this:

Hurricane Ian couldn’t wash away the best turtle nest season ever in Southwest Florida. Nesting season runs from May 1 to Oct 31 and luckily most of the nests had hatched by the time the big storm destroyed the local beaches.

Most had hatched by the storm arrived. Did the turtles nest early to avoid disaster?

Reply to  jshotsky
May 9, 2023 4:51 pm

now you see the problem.

a prediction of calm will be hard to falsify. if its 20 storms , folks will say thats calm

whereas a numerical prediction is easy to get wrong,

example if we see 12 named storms 5 hurricanes and 3 majors is that calm?

whose prediction is better,

how do you measure the prediction error.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 9, 2023 5:12 pm

Take note of and learn from timeless, tried & proven observations, to wit –
“predictions are tricky, especially about the future”

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Mr.
May 10, 2023 1:17 am

I’m sorry but every time I read about predictions I recite the last two verses of Robert Burns’ To A Mouse in my head. He was having a hard time farming before he got famous and was planning to emigrate to the West Indies

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 10, 2023 7:02 am

how do you measure the prediction error

Eggcellent queshtion. Guesh wheel have to wait for nex yer dis time, and see what the squiggly lines shay.
Been drinning margritas for hours, shtill no tittles.
Mebbe I move closher to de coste, haff a plusss

Reply to  jshotsky
May 10, 2023 5:26 am

The number of named storms does not indicate an active season, especially considering that the last several years NOAA gave names to storms based on radar estimates only, no observations, and then under 24 hours un-named those storms.

The only reliable long-term metric of an active season is the number of landfalling storms.

May 9, 2023 2:11 pm

The horses are usually right when they grow heavier/longer than normal winter coats in anticipation of a colder wetter winter. I don’t know why sea turtles should be less tuned into the seasons and the weather.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  starzmom
May 9, 2023 2:38 pm

Our horses on my Wisconsin dairy far m ALWAYS grew heavy winter coats. You must be from a more moderate climate.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 9, 2023 3:48 pm

My horse is stabled in Missouri; she and her stablemates have varying coats depending on whatever they sense the winter will be like. Mostly they are right. This year was very heavy–some days she shed out a small pony’s worth of hair and she isn’t done yet. It’s been a warm spring.

Reply to  starzmom
May 9, 2023 8:43 pm

horses can predict the climate but not the weather

Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 10, 2023 5:19 am

How much hair did your horse have this year versus last? And how was the weather different, if at all?

Loren Wilson
Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 10, 2023 5:57 pm

They all appear to do better than the climate models (except the Russian model).

Reply to  starzmom
May 10, 2023 7:06 am

I have tiny black ants, that bore through my walls in anticipation of extreme wet seasons. I can measure the expected rainfall by the heaps of sand we sweep up in the bathroom… Mostly they stay outside, see?

MIke McHenry
May 9, 2023 2:18 pm

Couldn’t be any worse than NOAA

Reply to  MIke McHenry
May 9, 2023 2:46 pm

the prediction is binary.

 So, a nesting season where turtles lay their eggs close to the high tide line is a prediction for a calm season


noaa says below calm

The TSR (Tropical Storm Risk) extended range forecast for North Atlantic hurricane activity in 2023 anticipates a season with activity below the 1991-2020 30-year norm level. The forecast spans the period from 1st June to 30th November 2023 and employs data through to the end of November 2022. TSR uses the forecast August-September sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Main Development Region (10º20ºN, 60º-20ºW) and the forecast July-September Caribbean trade wind anomaly over the region 7.5º17.5ºN, 100º-30ºW as predictors.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 9, 2023 5:18 pm

To begin to make any sense of this folklore, it seems necessary to measure the position of many nests every year for some extended time and compare those measurements with actual storm surge each storm over the same extended time, especially for the time frame between nesting and hatching.

So the turtles really vary their nest’s distance up the beach from year to year?
Does that distance actually compare well with what storms did the same year?
And probably some other questions vs data.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 9, 2023 9:09 pm

The turtles are all hatched and gone by August. Nobody predicts which storms will be landfalling majors and which will be fish storms. And certainly, nobody predicts which month they will occur. So the mother turtles, if they can predict at all, are using different criteria.

May 9, 2023 2:22 pm

Let’s hope that those turtles are better at predicting the weather than most of the climate activists who seem to be perpetually wrong!

Rud Istvan
May 9, 2023 2:25 pm

A side note for all WUWTers. Not only did Charles take the turtle nest/sargassum high tide line picture, he took the post heading sea turtle picture less than two weeks ago diving right off his condo. He showed it to me when we lunched together with others on Saturday. And, ‘A’ is one of the waitresses at his favorite next door hotel Tiki bar, where we lunched. Great conch fritters and fried calamari.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Charles Rotter
May 9, 2023 2:38 pm

Yup. My bad.

Scarecrow Repair
Reply to  Charles Rotter
May 9, 2023 2:39 pm

Oh oh, need a comma there, Charles…..

Scarecrow Repair
Reply to  Scarecrow Repair
May 9, 2023 3:09 pm

Oh dang, took all the fun out of that 🙂

Reply to  Charles Rotter
May 10, 2023 7:08 am

Charles, does “A” know she’s your girlfriend? 🙂

May 9, 2023 2:50 pm

i remain skeptical of the impact of hurricanes on nesting

Hurricane Ian couldn’t wash away the best turtle nest season ever in Southwest Florida. Nesting season runs from May 1 to Oct 31 and luckily most of the nests had hatched by the time the big storm destroyed the local beaches. Bonita Beach smashed their nest record with a whopping 283 nests laid on that beach. The previous record was set in 2019 with 238 nests.
“It is an all-time record,” exclaimed Eve Haverfield, president and founder of Turtle Time, a non-profit organization that monitors sea turtles in south Lee County. “And we ended up with 23,817 hatchlings that made it to the Gulf which represents an 88 percent hatch rate.”
There were only three nests left on Bonita Beach when Hurricane Ian blew in. Nearby, Fort Myers Beach had 109 nests, up from the 87 last year, but not as many as the record 132 set in 2020. Haverfield said five nests were destroyed by Hurricane Ian, but many others there were lost during a storm in June.

if you predict “calm” season youll be right half the time

Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 9, 2023 6:52 pm

Damn confident counters in Lee County.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 10, 2023 1:22 am

Selective skeptic,
turtles – yes
climate computer muddles – no

Reply to  Steven Mosher
May 10, 2023 12:09 pm

You’re lucky that turtles on the west coast of Florida have a relatively short nesting season.

In St. Lucie County (east coast, north of Palm Beach) the (human) authorities chose a sea turtle nesting season from March 1 through November 15, and condo owners near the beach are not allowed to have light shining on the beach at night for 8-1/2 months out of the year. Close the curtains or turn off the lights, but don’t scare the baby turtles!

I wonder what happens to a baby turtle unlucky enough to hatch during daylight or a full moon…neither of which are caused by humans.

Rud Istvan
May 9, 2023 2:59 pm

A faux climate ‘disaster’ theme (not hurricane related) that crops up frequently here in South Florida. It relates to both sea turtles, and alligators in the Everglades.

It is a true fact (but dunno why or how) that the sex of both sea turtle and alligator eggs is determined by the average temperature at which they incubate. NOT a xx/xy thing, a delta T thing. The higher the average incubation temperature, the more females. Above some threshold (differs for turtles and alligators), all females. And the mating season for both is May-June-July.

So the oft repeated climate alarm hereabouts is that as AGW proceeds, turtles and alligators will eventually lack males and the species will both die out due to climate change. The HORROR!

The alarmist logic error is that the average breeding seasonal temperature is determined by weather, not climate, so some summer egg incubation periods are considerably colder than others. So a few colder summers produce mostly males. And both sea turtles and alligators live several decades on average. So there will always be enough younger males going after more older females despite AGW…in humans on South Florida cruise ships that is called the cougar thing.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 9, 2023 3:40 pm

It won’t get hotter than when turtles and gators evolved.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Milo
May 9, 2023 4:57 pm

Yup. But you would not believe the South Florida alarmists claiming otherwise.

Reply to  Milo
May 9, 2023 7:12 pm

There’s a gator farm near Alamosa Colorado where they’re raised in and around some hot springs. I’ve seen pictures of the gators hanging out on snow covered banks. They seem to be adaptable.

Reply to  Scissor
May 10, 2023 7:13 am

Turns out the little buggers got them two sets of genes; one has the RNA active for metabolism at ‘normal’ temperatures, another set of genes for producing enzymes etc in the cold. I have yet to find whether “two genomes” refers to RNA or DNA redundancy.

John Oliver
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 9, 2023 6:56 pm

sounds like a potential income opportunity for Tom Cougars

Barnes Moore
May 9, 2023 3:02 pm

I like the folklore story. I will have to pay more attention to the turtle nests this year in north Florida to see if I can identify a pattern. Just anecdotal evidence from years past, I can’t say I’ve seen any pattern. I have seen several nests up in the dunes, and several just above the high tide level. If turtles have been around for 150 million years, they must have figured something out. I also have heard that the same turtle may lay multiple nests – I don’t know if that is true but wonder if maybe they instinctively hedge their bets and lay their eggs at differing locations on the beach – one nest in the dunes, and another just above high tide.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Barnes Moore
May 9, 2023 4:50 pm

Dunno about where you are, but here in Fort Lauderdale when a female emerges at night to dig a sand nest and lay her eggs, it is always a single nest. The turtle people that patrol the beach at dawn to stake the new nests to keep tourists off know this for sure. And those nests are always below our (artificial) dunes.

May 9, 2023 3:23 pm

Certainly there could be an evolutionary response to natural climate phenomena with this ancient turtle species or genus (if different species are its ancestor that goes back 150 MY).

Whether turtles or hurricane scientists, the thing with hurricanes is that the number of storms is not what matters, what matters is the storms that hit you.

Last year the pre season predictions were for a much higher number of storms, including major hurricanes, than average. Gulp! But then it turned out that last year was pretty much an average year. So great, right? But we Floridians who have been here for a few decades or more have learned better than to relax, even near the end of season.

As it happens Hurricane Ian came along at the end of September, within the last month that hurricanes landfall here historically. And as it also so happens, the eyewall of the storm passed right over my house sometime after the neighborhood private weather stations, connected via internet, stopped reporting … when sustained winds exceeded 120 mph. L

I don’t know what the max winds were at my house, but NWS a few months ago reclassified Ian as a borderline cat 5 at landfall on Fort Myers beach. My house was on the “dangerous” side of the eyewall (northeast side) where the storm forward speed gets added to the peak sustained windspeed. Fortunately for my neighborhood, however, it was a very slow moving storm, only 5-6 mph. But that was very bad for the folks on Ft Myers beach where the eye of the storm was centered, as it stayed there a very long time in its passage overhead.

The moral of the story is that any hurricane that hits you, even just one, really sucks. Whether a lot of storms form, or not.

Reply to  Duane
May 9, 2023 4:37 pm

Lake Wobegon Effect

Tom in Florida
May 9, 2023 4:04 pm

The new nests we saw Sunday morning on Manasota beach are up near where the beach becomes dune. The nests always vary in distance from the high tide mark. The turtles may be looking for certain texture of sand, or maybe the same distance they hatched at. What you can clearly see on a new nest is the going to and coming from tracks. I happened to notice the CTM picture had no new tracks so maybe the nest is not new and was there prior to the seaweed coming in.

May 9, 2023 4:29 pm

Last photo has turtles that appear to be crawling in a wok? Giggle.

Also I thought: “a nesting season where turtles lay their eggs close to the high tide line is a prediction for” lazy-arse turtles

May 9, 2023 8:23 pm

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Rod Evans
May 10, 2023 2:12 am

Nah, I am sticking to the good old proven scientific indicators i.e. seaweed.
“Seaweed green, storms be seen, seaweed brown get out of town”
That bristlecone pine indicator is well tested too, “when cone graph is down, don’t frown just ignore, when cone graph rises, smile cos that means prizes”
Mann, don’t you just love these well proven old wives tales eh?

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