By David Pendered
Sea turtle nesting season has begun on Georgia’s coast. The first loggerhead turtle nest of the year was found Tuesday on Cumberland Island, and state wildlife officials expect the number of this year’s nestings to be above average for this threatened species.
The discovery of the nest is significant because it’s a bellwether of the species’ overall population. No more than 50,000 nesting females exist in the entire world, according to an estimate by the Sea Turtle Conservancy. An estimate of the global loggerhead population doesn’t exist.
Since 1978, loggerheads have been listed as threatened by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This status means loggerheads are, “likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Endangered species are on the brink of extinction, according to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In Georgia, the state Department of Natural Resources reclassified the species in 2006 from threatened to endangered.
The number of loggerhead nests found in Georgia has been rising steadily since 2004, when the record-low of 358 nests were found. Georgia began tracking the nests in 1989.
The state’s record high was set in 2016, when a total of 3,289 loggerhead turtle nests were found on Georgia’s barrier islands. The number was 2,155 in 2017, according to a statement from for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The recovery benchmark is set at 2,800 loggerhead nests in Georgia. In addition to rebounding in Georgia, loggerhead nests are increasing in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, according to the statement.
The nest found Tuesday was spotted by Doug Hoffman, a wildlife biologist with the National Park Service. Following standard procedure, one egg was collected for genetic analysis by researchers with the University of Georgia. The purpose is to document the relationships that may exist among loggerheads nesting in Georgia. The one egg represents less than 1 percent of the average clutch size found on the island, according to DNR’s statement.
The nest was covered with a screen to protect the eggs from coyotes and other predators, according to the statement.
Georgia’s season for loggerhead nesting typically starts in early May and hits full stride by June, Mark Dodd, sea turtle program coordinator for DNR, said in the statement. He predicts the number of nests discovered to be above average, but not exceed the record set in 2016.
“We generally see two medium nesting years following a record year,” he said in the statement.
The statement provides a list of recommendations for beach goers to reduce their impact on loggerhead turtle nests. The guidelines are similar to those DNR released in April, when the department cautioned boaters to be vigilant and not injure sea turtles and manatees that are making their way into state waters.
The guidelines regarding loggerhead nests include:
- “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.”
- Report any dead or injured sea turtles seen at 800-2-SAVE-ME (800-272-8363) and, if the turtle is tagged, try to collect and report the tag color and number.