Hurricane Frances destroyed thousands of sea turtle nests as the storm tore through their most important beaches in the middle of the nesting season, biologists said.

The hurricane may have destroyed 40 percent to 60 percent of the loggerhead and green sea turtle nests made in 2004, a year that had already seen a sharp decline in turtle nesting, said Robbin Trindell, biological administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The storm swept away the beach at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-mile stretch in Brevard County that holds about one-fourth of the sea turtle nests made annually in the United States.

Although many nests at Archie Carr had already been vacated as baby turtles hatched and crawled to sea, many were in place when the storm struck. Paul Tritaik, the refuge's manager, said the number of nests lost was ``probably in the thousands.''

The hurricane destroyed about 30 loggerhead and green nests when it eroded part of the beach in Boca Raton, and washed away at least 200 nests in Hillsboro Beach, biologists said. In Pompano Beach the storm buried about 225 nests under up to 2 feet of sand.

The huge reptiles, which can weigh more than 1,000 pounds, crawl up the beaches at night to dig holes in the sand and lay 100 or so eggs. After a few weeks, the eggs hatch, and the hatchlings rush into the ocean to avoid predators.

Having evolved in a tropical environment, sea turtles have adapted to hurricanes. But scientists and environmentalists say it is more difficult for sea turtles to recover from storms today, as people develop their beaches, kill them for food, and ensnare them with long lines and shrimp nets.

The prime nesting areas in the United States run from northern Palm Beach County through Volusia County, areas that got raked by Hurricane Frances.

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Information from: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, http://www.sun-sentinel.com