The turtle folks call it a boil — that moment when a sea turtle nest virtually erupts as hatchlings make their way to the surface. The wiggles and scoots, up and out and into the water for days of constant swimming, is the payoff to a successful nesting. As the incubation period is a little fewer than two months, Georgia is in prime hatching season.
“Overall hatch success on the Georgia coast for loggerheads is exceptional,” said Mark Dodd, sea turtle program coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources. “We’re currently at 73 percent hatch success for loggerheads, and 70 percent emergence success. By comparison, we’ve had relatively, or slightly lower, hatch success in previous years because of the effects of hurricanes.”
He said last year, the percentages were 52 percent mean hatch success and around 50 percent mean emergence success. And for 2016, which was the best year for nesting before this one, hatch success was close to 62 percent, with emergence success at 58.5 percent.
“What we generally see is roughly 60 percent, so anything above that, we feel like is really good,” Dodd said.
As of Monday afternoon, statewide nest totals stood at 3,928 overall, with 2,895 loggerhead nests, 18 green sea turtle nests and 15 unknown. The first emergence this year was on St. Catherines Island on July 2, and the latest one recorded as of press time was Monday on Ossabaw Island, according to data available at seaturtle.org.
Among area islands, Cumberland led the way with 1,014 nests (998 loggerhead, 16 green), with an 80.9 percent hatch success and 77.7 percent emergence success.
Little St. Simons Island showed 237 nests (226 loggerhead, 11 unknown) at 79.5 percent hatch success and 74.6 emergence success. The trend was the same for Jekyll Island, which had 199 nests as of late Monday morning.
Sea Island posted percentages under 70 for both hatching and emergence — the lowest of local islands, but still at higher levels than usual.
On the nest losses so far this season, most have come courtesy of feral hogs, followed by raccoons, coyotes and the tides.
It’s not fully known the extent of the effect from of the large tides earlier in the month. To do what was possible to counter some of the over-washing, those involved in sea turtle conservation spent time following the tides removing sand the water deposited on some of the nest sites.
“We’ve had tides that were significantly above predicted, during both the new and the full moon tides, and that sort of culminated with a real high tide, set the weekend of Aug. 3, two weeks ago,” Dodd said. “I’m not really sure why that is — I don’t know if the predictions were off this year, or if there has been some sort of tidal anomaly.”
He said that thus far, there hasn’t been a notable reduction in hatching success, but one is expected in the statistics by the time the season draws to a close.