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Sea turtles nest at record pace along Georgia coast

2019 numbers on track to set sea turtle nesting records for state since 2016

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CUMBERLAND ISLAND, Ga. – Biologists are seeing an increase in loggerhead sea turtle nesting in both of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and the number of sea turtle nests along the Georgia coast is on pace to set a record this year.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Mark Dodd said if nesting continues increasing, he expects up to 4,500 nests by the end of the season. The previous record, set in 2016, is 3,289 loggerhead nests. 

News4Jax recently visited Cumberland Island, which accounts for a quarter of the statewide nest total in Georgia annually. Doug Hoffman, wildlife biologist for the National Park Service Cumberland Island, said this year’s numbers are on track to set turtle nesting records for the state since 2016. 

“The undeveloped nature of Cumberland compared to a place like Jekyll (Island) or St. Simons Island, or Amelia Island in Florida, you have a lot of issues -- people on the beach at all hours and night,” Hoffman said. "You have disturbance issues where Cumberland does not have any of those issues."

Cumberland Island is the largest barrier island in Georgia and is completely undeveloped, making it the perfect spot for sea turtles.

Hoffman said Cumberland Island has seen annual sea turtle nest increases. From 1974 to 2009, there were 225 nests. That number more than doubled from 2010 to today.

There are more than 18 miles of turtle nesting habitat on Cumberland Island, which are monitored daily from mid-April through October each year.

Hoffman works with two sea turtle technicians who count nests for data and will take an egg for a genetic sample.

“Analyze that data for trends and populations, the genetics are really important because it gives us a way to track the individual loggerheads that we have nesting in this area,” Hoffman said.

The eggshell is put into a test tube and sent to the University of Georgia for testing.

"We need to see which individuals are coming back to the island. We have some turtles that happened, nothing here since 2008, others from 2009 and some new turtles,” said Kayla Silva, a sea turtle technician.

Currently, there are more than 560 nests recorded, which Hoffman said is on track to set a record.

The largest year on record was in 2016 with 867 nests, according to Hoffman.

Loggerhead sea turtles are the species seen most often in Georgia. Although there’s an increase in loggerhead sea turtle nesting, they are listed as a threatened species.

Nesting season usually reaches its peak in June and continues into early July. Less intense nesting usually lasts through August.

About the Author:

Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.