How you can help
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 or disturb nesting turtles.
• If you encounter a sea turtle on the beach, observe at a distance.
• Don’t disturb turtle tracks. Researchers use them to identify species and mark nests for protection.
• Do not touch or disturb nests or hatchlings.
• Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, Styrofoam and trash floating in the water as food.
• 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 28 percent of the sea turtles found dead or hurt in Georgia in 2015 suffered injuries consistent with being hit by a boat. Boaters who hit a sea turtle are urged to stand by and contact DNR at 1-800-2-SAVE-ME (272-8363).
• Also, report any dead or injured sea turtles seen at 1-800-272-8363. (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
BRUNSWICK — Loggerhead sea turtles have crawled their way to a conservation milestone in Georgia.
As of two weeks ago, the hard-shell giants with log-sized heads had laid more than 2,810 nests on the state’s barrier island beaches this nesting season, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. A key recovery goal for loggerheads, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, is 2,800 nests annually in Georgia.
And while sea turtle nesting winds down in mid-July, it’s far from over.
DNR Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Mark Dodd expects 3,000-plus nests, about a third more than last year’s 2,335 nests, the previous high since comprehensive surveys began on Georgia beaches in 1989.
"When you think about the fact that for many years we averaged about 1,000 nests and this year we may be beyond 3,000 … it suggests an exponential increase," said Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
Loggerheads are Georgia’s main nesting sea turtle. Weighing as much as 400 pounds, females crawl onto beaches from late spring into August to lay eggs in nests dug on the dry-sand beach. Hatchlings begin emerging in July, scrambling for the surf to begin their lives at sea.
Sea turtles face threats varying from habitat loss to nest predation, boat strikes and incidental catch in commercial fishing. All have reduced loggerhead numbers, leading to legal protections and conservation efforts.
While loggerhead nesting can vary widely year to year, statistical analysis shows an annual increase of about 3 percent in Georgia, not counting 2016. Nesting in Florida and the Carolinas is also trending upward. One of the recovery goals set in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries plan for the unit including Georgia and the Carolinas is a 2 percent annual nesting increase for 50 years.
That equates to 2,800 nests a year in Georgia, a mark the state had been on track to hit in about 2020.
Dodd said, however, that the recovery of loggerheads "still has a long way to go." He stressed the need for continued conservation, and emphasized the partnerships — from grassroots groups to government agencies — forged to monitor nesting, restore habitats and protect sea turtles.
He also said the health of these iconic turtles affects coastal environments and economies. That impact is heightened in a state where more than 2 million residents take part in wildlife-watching activities.
"Our goal is to recover loggerheads in the state and make sure the population is stable," Dodd said. At 2,800 nests and counting, "we’re reaching one of the milestones set to achieve that."
DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve sea turtles and other rare wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency does this largely through public support from fundraisers, grants and contributions.
A key fundraiser is the sale and renewals of eagle and hummingbird license plates. DNR wildlife plates cost $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. Details at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support.