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First Loggerhead nest of 2008 found
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BRUNSWICK -- Loggerhead turtles have returned to Georgia's beaches. Members of the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative found the state's first loggerhead nest of 2008 last week on Blackbeard Island, signaling the start of nesting season for the federally threatened species.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Sea Turtle Cooperative, a milestone for sea turtle conservation. Coordinated by the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the group of volunteers, researchers and biologists from various agencies monitor turtle nesting on Georgia beaches.
Loggerhead nesting numbers vary widely from year to year. The 2007 total of 689 loggerhead nests, down from 1,400 in 2006, was considered a below-average year. The 2006 nest totals were the third highest since WRD established comprehensive surveys in 1989, with 1,419 nests found in 1999 and 1,504 nests in 2003. The annual average in Georgia since 1989 has been 1,045 nests.
Adult female loggerheads come ashore to dig nests and lay eggs from May through September. Their vulnerable hatchlings scramble to the sea approximately 60 days later, swimming for the open ocean, where fewer predators lurk.
Loggerheads do not nest every year. Generally they return to lay eggs -- about 120 per nest -- every second or third year.
Listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, the loggerhead is Georgia's primary nesting sea turtle. Adults can grow to more than 300 pounds. In 1994, the Georgia Loggerhead Recovery and Habitat Protection Plan was adopted to standardize nest management procedures for the state. The long-term recovery goal for the species is an average of 2,000 loggerhead nests per year over 25 years.
Threats to the survival of loggerheads include commercial fisheries, development of barrier islands, and nest depredation by coyotes, raccoons and feral hogs. WRD and conservation groups have worked to address the fishery threat by enforcing regulations that require shrimpers to use turtle excluder devices -- grids that fit across the opening of shrimp trawls to keep turtles from entering the nets.
Organizations and agencies that team with WRD in the cooperative include Caretta Research Project, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia Sea Turtle Center, The Lodge at Little St. Simons Island, Little Cumberland Island Homeowners Association, Sea Island Co., St. Catherines Island Foundation, St. Simons Island Sea Turtle Project, Tybee Island Marine Science Center and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Savannah Coastal Refuges.

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