Sea turtle nests are popping up in record numbers along Georgia beaches this summer, prompting experts to declare the summer nesting season a success a month before it officially ends.
Volunteers along Georgia's 100-mile coastline have counted more than 2,000 sea turtle nests so far this season. That's roughly double the average annual number of nests, said Mark Dodd, sea turtle program coordinator for the state.
"This is significant because we have been averaging approximately 1,000 nests a year over the last 25 years," said Dodd, a Department of Natural Resources biologist based in coastal Brunswick. "Perhaps more important is the trend we have seen over the last eight years suggesting an increasing nesting population."
The Savannah Morning News reports (http://bit.ly/O5DHDS) Cumberland Island has counted more than 600 sea turtle nests along its 18 miles of federally protected beach. That's well above its record tally of 366 nests last year.
"It's ridiculous," Dodd said.
Tybee Island, home of Georgia's largest public beach, gets fewer turtle nests because there are so many people. Still, turtle monitors on Tybee have counted 20 nests this year, enough to surpass the island's previous record of 14.
And the nesting season still has a few weeks left to go. Sea turtles typically lay their eggs from early May to late August. Hatchlings continue to emerge into October.
There were 2004 sea turtle nests counted in Georgia last year.
Nest numbers are important because loggerhead sea turtles are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The recovery goal is for Georgia to have 2,800 turtle nests each year.
"Honestly, it's starting to look like an achievable goal," Dodd said in an email to staff and volunteers who patrol Georgia beaches daily to count and protect turtle nests.