Fort Lauderdale Beach Erosion Could Spell Trouble for Turtle Nesting

Chris Sweeney

Several hundred yards before traffic cones wedge northbound traffic on Fort Lauderdale's scenic A1A into a single, slow-moving lane, a yellow sign alerts drivers and pedestrians that they're smack in the middle of a turtle nesting zone. 

But now that strong tides, rough seas, and severe erosion have decimated a four-block stretch of beach, leaving seawalls exposed and sidewalks collapsed, one expert is concerned that some turtle nesting grounds could be gone. 

"That part of the beach is not going to be in condition to support any type of nesting with a high success rate, especially if we have increasing tidal surges," Richard WhiteCloud, founding director of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, tells New Times

There are different turtle nesting zones throughout Broward County, WhiteCloud explains. Zone ten runs approximately from Hugh Taylor Birch State Park up to Oakland Park Boulevard, meaning that it falls within the area of the damaged beach. 

"The loss of a section of zone ten is a sad thing," he says. "Zone ten includes some of our nicer nesting beaches, where there's less light, less of a disorientation ratio for the turtles."

The turtles that hatch along the beach adhere to a concept known as nest-site fidelity, meaning they return to the beach they hatched on to lay their eggs and bring along the next generation. That could prove difficult, however, given the dramatic changes to the beachfront. 

It'll take some time for researchers to determine whether the erosion has affected nesting. Around March, the first turtles will start making their way toward local beaches. WhiteCloud estimates that by July, he and his colleagues will be able to measure the extent of havoc wreaked by the erosion. 

"I do think nesting will be down in that area because of beach loss and the fluctuation in natural habitat," he says. 

And while WhiteCloud has the drawl of a supremely mellow dude, he also has some strong words for climate-change naysayers and developers keen on plowing over dunes for the sake of a better view of the ocean. 

"They fought against the dunes, and it's tragic. Nobody wants to see property values go down, but they felt that getting rid of the dunes enhanced their view. How's the view now?" he says. "We see this as a net positive. This is an educational crash course, so to speak, brought to you by Mother Nature... They've damaged the environment to the point where the ocean picked up the beach and put it in front of their doorstep."

WhiteCloud is quick to point out that there are billions of dollars of tangible property assets at stake. He understands market forces are going to march on but is urging decision makers to renew their focus on meaningful sustainable practices. 

"It could be financially devastating to have sea-level rise and erosion to the point where it gobbles up billions of dollars of property," he says. "Everyone needs to entertain thoughtful discussion."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Sweeney