The overall health of Coastal Georgia’s ecosystem was considered moderately good in 2022 based on a report card released recently by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division.
Scores between zero and 19% count as an F. Scores between 20-39% count as a D. Scores between 40-59% count as a C. Scores between 60-79% count as a B. Scores between 80-100% count as an A.
“Of note this year, we saw increases in the quality of water, along with sea turtle hatching,” said Jan Mackinnon, a program manager with DNR’s Coastal Resources Division who oversees the report’s compilation. “The overall scores for this year of B is slightly down from last year’s A-, and we can attribute that to a marked drop in the blue crab score within the report’s fisheries index and bald eagle-related scores.”
The report card, released in late April, looks at 12 indicators that examine human health, fisheries and wildlife to define the ecological health of Coastal Georgia. Blue Crab and bald eagle scores, 18% and 48% respectively, were among the lowest in 2022 while red drum and sea turtle nesting scores were the highest, both at 100%.
“Blue crabs had a poor score most likely due to high salinity conditions that trigger movement upriver to areas that are outside of DNR’s stationary sampling areas,” the report card said.
Mackinnon said salinity changes were likely due to decreased rainfall in areas where DNR biologists sample for blue crabs.
“While these sampling locations stay the same, the blue crabs migrate to different parts of the estuary seeking favorable salinity and water conditions,” she said. “This movement of the blue crab populations can have an impact on the overall report card score.”
Other fisheries indicators like red drum, 100%, and shrimp, 86%, had good scores and contributed to an overall score for the fisheries grade of B, or 69%.
The water quality index, 86%, and the sea turtle index, 87%, each earned A grades.
“Overall, water quality indicators are good, meaning that it is generally safe to swim and to eat local shellfish, and that there are oxygen levels that support fish and other species,” the report card said.
Sea turtle nesting had a perfect score of 100% after record nest numbers were recorded in Coastal Georgia in 2022.
Sea turtle hatching, however, did not fare quite as well in 2022 as nesting, coming in with a B score of 73%. But the hatching score was up 14 points from 2021.
“This increase was attributed to a record number of nests in Georgia this cycle, the absence of major storm events, and human intervention through next protection and predator management,” the report card said.
There were 229 occupied bald eagle nest territories in Georgia in 2022, a record number. There were 73 nest territories in Coastal Georgia but only 47% fledged at least one young.
“The survey revealed more failed nests than expected,” the report card said. “Some had dead eaglets. others were missing young that usually would not have left the nest by that time.”
The 48% score for bald eagles combined with a tepid 40% score for American oystercatchers pulled the bird index in 2022 down to a C grade, or 53%, the report card said.
“The annual Coastal Georgia Ecosystem Report Card is an important tool for understanding the state of our coastal environment and the impact of our actions on it,” Mackinnon said. “We hope that this report will inspire individuals, organizations, and governments to take action to conserve and protect our valuable coastal resources.”