Continuing a trend expected since the beginning of the 2017 sea turtle nesting season, this year’s totals do not appear like they will surpass the 2016 season, but should be well ahead of the historical average.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, there were 2,148 sea turtle nests along the Georgia coast, filled with 104,601 eggs. Nesting began a continual drop-off following the first week of July, when Mark Dodd — coordinator of the state Department of Natural Resources sea turtle program — said totals this year were running at about 75 percent of last year’s numbers.
If that holds though the end of nesting season in October, Georgia should end up with more than 2,400 nests total, which is around double the historical average. At present, however, the attention is not so much on new nests but on newly hatched turtles emerging from those nests and making their way to the ocean.
The first emergence of the season came July 4 from a Kemp’s ridley nest on Sea Island, and the latest emergence as of press time Tuesday was from a Little St. Simons Island loggerhead nest. Typically, sea turtle eggs take about two months to hatch, depending on any number of conditions. The most destructive predator of sea turtle eggs continues to be feral hogs, though raccoons, armadillos, ghost crabs and coyotes each make their marks.
Cumberland Island showed 515 nests as of late Tuesday morning, comprising 17,471 eggs, of which 4.2 percent were lost thus far. In all, there are 504 loggerhead nests, seven green turtle nests, two unknown, and one each for leatherback and Kemp’s ridley turtles. With a statewide emergence success — hatching and leaving the nest chamber — at 52.3 percent, most local sites show better numbers, including Cumberland at 63.1 percent.
Jekyll Island had 130 nests on it as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, with a total of 6,832 eggs, of which four percent were lost. Loggerheads laid all the nests, except one unknown nest, and those nests are averaging a 56.9 percent emergence success.
Numbers from Sapelo Island also came in shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday, and while at 113 nests there are fewer than Jekyll, researchers tallied 8,058 eggs so far, with only 2.1 percent lost. Loggerheads laid all of the 113 nests, which showed an emergence rate of 62.2 percent.
Little St. Simons Island came in with 108 loggerhead nests shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday, including 5,428 eggs with 5.1 percent lost, and those nests showed an emergence success of 64.9 percent.
Both Sea Island and Little Cumberland Island show significantly fewer nests — 67 and 62 respectively — with Sea Island coming in with 4,499 eggs and 3,357 on Little Cumberland. Of those, Sea Island showed 6.3 percent egg loss, with 2 percent at Little Cumberland.
While the vast majority of the nests are of the loggerhead variety — 65 on Sea Island and 59 on Little Cumberland — Sea Island also has two Kemp’s ridley nests and Little Cumberland has three green turtle nests.
Both places show higher emergence success as well, with Sea Island at 73.3 percent and Little Cumberland showing 84.2 percent.
Meanwhile, as is typical because of its high amount of development, St. Simons Island had the lowest nest count with seven nests comprised of 323 eggs, though those nests averaged out to a 64.7 percent emergence success so far.