The loggerhead sea turtle nesting season in Georgia has started on time and, as last year, on Cumberland Island.
Wildlife biologist Doug Hoffman of the National Park Service reported the state’s first loggerhead nest of 2015 at Cumberland Monday. The most southern barrier island in Georgia also had the first nest in 2014.
Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Mark Dodd of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said loggerhead nesting usually begins about the first of May and hits full stride – or crawl – by June.
These massive reptiles, the state’s primary marine turtle and a federally threatened species, crawl ashore on barrier island beaches, dig a hole at the base of the dunes and lay their eggs – usually at night.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative, a DNR-coordinated network of about 200 volunteers, researchers and agency employees, patrols Georgia’s barrier island beaches daily during nesting season. Members mark, monitor and protect sea turtle nests.
The cooperative documented 1,201 nests last year. The total ended a four-year run of record-breaking seasons that peaked at 2,289 nests in 2013, the most in the quarter-century the Georgia coastline has been closely surveyed for sea turtle nesting.
DNR analysis has shown those highs weren’t an anomaly. Statistically, loggerhead nesting is increasing in the state. Nesting in Florida and the Carolinas has also been trending upward.
Dodd, who works for the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, said University of Georgia genetic analysis geared to understanding the number and relatedness of loggerheads nesting in the state suggests 2015 will be another strong year. Only about 22 percent of cataloged females laid eggs in the previous two years. The 78 percent that didn’t nest may be bound for Georgia beaches this summer.
“We sort of expect them to show back up in big numbers this year,” Dodd said. “Or that’s the guess.”
Sea turtle nesting can vary widely from year to year.
DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve sea turtles and other rare wildlife not legally fished for or hunted in the state, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency does this largely through public support from fundraisers, grants and direct contributions. Fundraisers include the eagle and hummingbird license plates.
Thanks to a law change last year, DNR wildlife plates cost only $25 more than a standard plate to buy or renew, and up to $20 of that fee goes to help restore species such as loggerhead sea turtles.
Learn more at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support. Details on the Nongame Conservation Section’s work are in the agency’s annual report, www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport.
What You Can Do
All marine turtles in Georgia are protected by state and federal law. To help conserve these species:
- Minimize beachfront lighting during sea turtle nesting season. Turn off, shield or redirect lights.
- When walking the beach at night, don’t use flashlights and flash photography. They can deter turtles from coming ashore to nest or cause them to abort nesting.
- If you encounter a sea turtle on the beach, remain quiet, still and at a distance.
- Leave turtle tracks undisturbed. Researchers use them to identify the species and mark nests for protection.
- Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, Styrofoam and trash floating in the water as food and die when this trash blocks their intestines.
- Remove recreational equipment such as lounge chairs and umbrellas from the beach at night. They can deter nesting attempts and interfere with the seaward journey of hatchlings.
- Protect beach vegetation that stabilizes sand and the natural coastline.
- When boating, stay alert and avoid turtles. About a third of the sea turtles found dead or hurt in Georgia in 2014 suffered injuries consistent with being hit by a boat. Boaters who hit a sea turtle are urged to stand-by and immediately contact the DNR at 800-2-SAVE-ME (800-272-8363).
- Also report any dead or injured sea turtles seen at 800-272-8363. (If the turtle is tagged, include the tag color and number in the report if possible.)
Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia DNR
More on the Net
- Georgia nesting updates by beach – www.seaturtle.org/nestdb/?view=3
- Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative – www.georgiawildlife.com/SeaTurtleCooperative
- Loggerhead profile – www.georgiawildlife.com/rare_species_profiles (click “Reptiles”)