11 September 2008

Hurricane Ike Irks Island Waters

Hurricane Ike is passing well to our south, headed west to visit Texas or Louisiana, but we can still feel the strength of the storm here, especially as we watch over our turtles nests! Mark, park VIP DJ and I watched over PB7111 for a bit in the late evening, with Mark eventually determining it was most likely safe, and it was, at least until about 0200.

I left the Pensacola Beach nest to check on Santa Rosa nests 7081 and 7111. One nest had 62 hatchlings a little past midnight, that all went for a very harrowing first swim. They all seemed to do very well though! After chatting with Mark, I stayed a while longer to listen to both nests, then planned to head home, checking on the Pensacola Beach nest on the way.

Leaving was not such an easy prospect. At first, the tide was just high in the Opal Beach area, but it wasn't that significant.

Once I got about a mile west on my little Honda ATV, water was covering the road.

By the time I had traveled another half-mile, there was water running across the island, with the occasional wave crashing across it. Water surrounded me on all sides, though most of it was only a few inches deep.

Since it was 0230, it was hard to see the extent and depth of the flooding, especially in the distance. I started to panic a little. Do I risk the few inches of water on the road, knowing there's a huge breach in the road that I may not be able to see? Should I head for the few inches of running water on sand that could be lik driving through quick sand? Or just find a high dune and park? It was clear that water was rushing across the island, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Bay, and high tide was still almost 5 hours away. Standing still didn't seem like a very good option!

I could feel myself losing control, and knew that would be even more dangerous. I had no choice but to talk myself through, or wait like a sitting duck as the water rose around me. Not my idea of a fun activity in the wee hours of the morning.

As you may imagine, it took longer than normal to exit the park, so my work plans were a little delayed, and the combination of fatigue and supressed fear was overwhelming. Once I finally got back to the main road, things were still flooded. My nerves sure had a workout, and did not appreciate the water that knew no boundaries -- not the gulf, the dunes,the nests, the roads, nothing was safe!

The nest on Pensacola Beach that had been ten feet from the water when DJ left at midnight now had waves washing as far as 20 feet north of the hatchling chamber (we knew the eggs had hatched as we'd heard them crawling towards the surface for a few days). I called Mark for a little advice, and Monica and DJ for a little help.

DJ, Monica and I helped a nest full of hatchlings get to the water by about 0500 this morning. We were completely drenched in the process, planting our feet firmly in the sand when the largest waves came in so we wouldn't accidentally step on hatchlings tossed in the surf. I think the tiny turtles did better than we did!

Once all 70 loggerheads were in the water, several washed back on the higher-than-normal surf.

Thirteen made their way north, towards a Gulf Power streetlamp. Happily, we found their tracks and recaptured and released the wayward turtles. Disorientation can have a lethal result if they're not found in time...

After that, I tried to check on a nest at Fort Pickens, but my little work truck didn't seem like a match for the flooded road...

in either direction...

After getting hopelessly lost in the Santa Rosa area earlier, looking for a safe way out of the very flooded park, my frazzled nerves couldn't handle any more flood water!

Even the Beach Patrol seemed to think we should stay out of the water, with red flags flying high.

Some of the waves crashed over the long Pensacola Beach pier. A pier employee said there's already damage along the end, and we're not even within 400 miles of Ike!

Quiet Water Beach is flooded as well.

Weather forecasts indicate tonight's tides will be higher. I'm not so sure I'm up for another night nest sitting like last night! I feel bad for the people who will really bear the brunt of this storm -- we're hundreds of miles away and still seeing much impact!


kjpweb said...

The dimensions of these storms is mindboggling! Even another 200 miles to the southeast we here in Central Florida have higher windgusts than usual.Let's hope that we soon will be done with!
Cheers, Klaus

Barrier Island Girl said...

You're awesome, Kirsten! Thanks for everything you've taught me. I'm exhausted, but so excited about saving that nest.

Now get some rest! You WAY deserve it!


RZ said...

Wonderful site and a wonderful life you are leading! Great photo on Wunderground. ~ RZ

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