BRUNSWICK — Loggerhead sea turtles may be slow on land, but give them this: When it comes to the start of nesting season, they tend to be on time.
Georgia’s first loggerhead nest of 2014 was found May 9 at Cumberland Island. Wildlife biologist Doug Hoffman of the National Park Service reported the nest, which was made during the day. Loggerheads, the state’s primary sea-turtle species, usually lay their eggs at night.
But night or day, sea-turtle program coordinator Mark Dodd of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said the state usually sees the season’s first loggerhead nest about the first of May.
Other Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative members have found “false” crawls — where turtles crawl onto the beach but don’t nest — on islands including Jekyll, more evidence that loggerheads are beach-bound.
These massive reptiles, which are federally listed as threatened, crawl ashore on barrier-island beaches, dig a hole at the base of the dunes and lay their eggs.
The Sea Turtle Cooperative — a DNR-coordinated network of volunteers, researchers and agency employees — patrols Georgia’s barrier-island beaches daily during nesting season. Members mark, monitor and protect sea-turtle nests.
They did that a lot last year, documenting a record 2,289 loggerhead nests, the most in the 25 years the state’s coastline has been closely surveyed for sea-turtle nesting. The new high capped four straight summers of record totals, including 2,241 loggerhead nests in 2012; 1,992 in 2011; and 1,760 in 2010.
DNR’s analysis has shown that those highs aren’t an anomaly. Statistically, loggerhead nesting is increasing in the state. Loggerhead nesting in Florida and the Carolinas also has been trending upward.
Dodd, who works for the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, is hoping for another strong nesting season. But as for predicting a total, that’s anybody’s guess. Sea-turtle nesting can vary widely from year to year.
Dodd banked his prediction this year on the “intelligence of the group.” He averaged the guesses of cooperative members during a recent meeting. His prediction of 2,272 nests is slightly fewer than last year’s total, but still far more than the watershed mark of 2,000 nests, and still pointing toward an iconic species on the rebound.
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 without using state appropriations, depending instead on fundraisers, grants and direct contributions. Fundraisers include the eagle and hummingbird license plates. A portion of each sale and renewal of the wildlife plates helps restore species such as loggerheads.
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.