Sea turtle nesting on Georgia’s coast off last year’s pace

By David Pendered

As the sea turtle nesting season winds down along Georgia’s coast, the number of nests appears to have dropped by about 21 percent compared to this time last year, according to preliminary data compiled by seaturtle.org.

sea turtle

The number of sea turtle nests counted so far this year is about 21 percent off the number counted last year. File/Credit: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division

The total number of nests of all turtle species counted this year in May, June and July was 1,652. That compares to a total count of nests of all species for the same three months in 2017 of 2,099. This year’s count is a few days short of representing a complete July.

The decline in nesting patterns also appears in the number of false crawls that have been observed. False crawls are noted when a turtle track on the beach shows the turtle had left the ocean, headed up the beach, and made a U-turn to return to the ocean.

To date this year, 1,515 false crawls have been observed. This compares to 2,021 false crawls observed during the same period of 2017, according to records kept by seaturtle.org.

It’s not likely the number of nests of any turtle species will rebound in August.

The major nesting period is in June and July, when the number of nests reaches well into the triple digits. The number of nests falls to a few dozen in August, according to records of past years compiled by seaturtle.org.

Predators have presented a major threat to sea turtle nests this year. The list of animals is startling, in that it speaks to the array of species with which humans share the coastline.

Raccoons have been the major cause of nest losses this year. Raccoons are followed by:

sea turtle, raccoon

Raccoons have been the No. 1 predator of sea turtle eggs along Georgia’s coastline this year. Credit: seaturtleexploration.com

  • Ghost crabs;
  • Armadillos;
  • Coyotes;
  • Hogs;
  • Tide storm;
  • Foxes.

In 2017, tide storms were the major cause of lost nests. Hogs were No. 2 on the list, followed by :

  • Raccoons;
  • Armadillos;
  • Ghost crabs;
  • Coyotes;
  • Foxes.

The nesting count that’s available on seaturtle.org’s webpage is compiled by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The state started counting turtle nests in 1989.

Nest of loggerhead turtles are of keen interest, given their precarious posture in the world.

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.

Spotters this year have counted 1,648 nests of loggerhead turtles. That compares to a count of 2,152 during the same period last year, according to seaturtle.org’s records.

Over time, the number of loggerhead nests found in Georgia has been rising steadily since 2004, when a low of 358 nest were counted

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.

 

sea turtle, false crawl

Sea turtles who leave the ocean to lay eggs are almost as likely to return to the water with out laying their eggs than they are to lay eggs in a nest, as recorded on this beach in North Carolina. Credit: emeraldisle-nc.org

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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