The number of loggerhead turtle nests found on Georgia's coast this year is the third lowest since comprehensive counts began in 1989, state biologists say.
But they are not concerned - not yet, anyway.
Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said sudden changes in the numbers of nests don't bother him.
"What I'm really concerned with ... is the long-term trend," said Dodd, who works in the Nongame Conservation Section of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division.
This year, the number of nests found on 13 barrier islands fell to 688, down from 1,400 in 2006 and 1,219 in 2005.
Beyond the past three spring and summer nesting seasons, the available long-term trend is uninspiring. For the past 35 years, counts on only three Georgia beaches have reflected a yearly drop of about 1.5 percent, the DNR said.
The yearly average number of nests since 1989 is 1,023 - way below the 2,000 loggerhead nests hoped for in the federal recovery plan established for Georgia over a 25-year period, Dodd said.
The number of loggerhead nests reached its highest point in 2003, when 1,508 were counted.
Dodd said Georgia is not alone in a decline in nests. Other Southeastern states are experiencing similar declines.
Data suggest that loggerheads, Georgia's most common sea turtle, have moved from a four-year nesting cycle of one year of a low number of nests and three years of medium-to-high numbers to a three-year cycle of one low year and two medium-high years, Dodd said.
One bright spot for biologists this year is a drop in the frequency of turtle strandings, he said. Eighty-two strandings were reported since Jan. 1, an improvement over the 106 during the same period in 2006 and the 182 in 2005.
Nests will be watched through October, until hatchlings emerge, Dodd said.
The turtles, which can grow to weigh more than 300 pounds, face multiple threats to survival, Dodd said. Among them are being snared in commercial fishing, loss of habitat and collisions with boats.
The preliminary number of loggerhead turtle nests count this year on 13 barrier islands in Georgia:
St. Catherines 51
Little St. Simons 35
Little Cumberland 14
Little Tybee 3
St. Simons 3