With a number of shimmies and a plop, sea turtle nesting season began Sunday night in Georgia, initiated on Cumberland Island.
State Department of Natural Resources Sea Turtle Program Director Mark Dodd said wildlife biologist Doug Hoffman found the first nest of the year, created by a loggerhead turtle, Monday morning.
“Last year we had a very large increase in nesting,” Dodd said. “Over the years, we’ve been shooting for this goal, which is in the federal recovery plan for loggerheads, to try to get to 2,800 nests. So, we finally reached that goal last year. We expect nesting to be a little bit down this year from the previous year, because that’s just the way nesting runs in the time series — we see ups and downs, a lot of variability.
“So, we expect a down year after such a big year, but still way above the average, and still what we would consider to be a very, very good nesting year. That’s what we’re expecting.”
Last year resulted in a total of 3,291 nests across the state — all were loggerheads, except for one green turtle nest on Cumberland and one Kemp’s ridley nest on Little Cumberland Island. Locally, there were 867 on Cumberland, 170 on Jekyll Island, 106 on Little Cumberland, 223 on Little St. Simons Island, 218 on Sapelo Island, 110 on Sea Island and 13 on St. Simons Island.
“On St. Simons, we’re looking forward to a busy season,” said Catherine Ridley, vice president of development and communications with One Hundred Miles, which helps lead the St. Simons Island Sea Turtle Project. “Last year, we blew our nesting record out of the water with 13 nests. It was especially exciting because for the first time, turtles were nesting across our entire beach — from Gould’s Inlet down to the beach adjacent to the Sea Island Lodge golf course at the southwestern end.
“We certainly hope those numbers will stay strong this summer and continue to increase over time.”
Ridley said the SSI Sea Turtle Project has volunteers that scour the beach for turtle tracks and locate stranded sea turtles.
“We mark and monitor nests throughout the season, relocating the eggs to higher ground if necessary,” Ridley said. “Beach-goers should feel free to ask our volunteers any questions they have about sea turtles, though members of the general public should never disturb nests, tracks or turtles in any way.”
Dodd said it’s fairly typical for the first few nests to appear in the first week of May. Numbers then usually grow through the month, with the season starting in earnest around the beginning of June.