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Katrina Displaces Sea Turtles

Most coastal dwellers headed for dry inland areas when Hurricane Katrina hit. But some smaller inhabitants, who desperately wanted to stay in the Ocean, also struggled in the wind and downpours.

Hurricane season overlaps with hatching season for Florida's sea turtles. And more than 350 hatchlings learned that the hard way as they struggled to leave south Florida beaches in Katrina's wake.

About 200 loggerhead turtle hatchlings born on Hutchinson Island got stranded Friday when they were unable to crawl through sea grass washed ashore by Katrina. Beach-goers at Delray Beach on Saturday found about 25 hatchlings pushed back to land by choppy waves kicked up by the storm.

"There were just having too rough of a time getting through the waves and were dehydrated and exhausted," Kirt Rusenko, a marine conservationist, told the Palm Beach Post.

A cooler filled with wet sand was a drop-off site at the Marinelife Center of Juno Beach. About 150 baby loggerheads were dropped off there over the weekend. It will keep the babies at least a week before they are healthy enough to drop off in the waves.

Officials say uncovered turtle eggs, though, should be left alone. It is against the law to disturb a Loggerhead nest; Loggerheads are a threatened species.

When Hurricane Katrina approached Florida last week, at least two sea turtle nests were washed out on Treasure Coast. Scientists told the Post that the lost eggs would only have a tiny impact on the strong green turtle nesting season.

Despite Katrina, six turtles came ashore to lay eggs between the Fort Pierce jetty and Normandy Beach, according to Michael Bresette, a biologist who monitors nests there.

Residents and vacationers worked with scientists there to capture and return about 70 hatchlings to the surf. More than one dozen died, most likely from exhaustion, Bob Ernest, president of Ecological Associates, told the Post.