The numbers are almost entirely in, and while Hurricane Dorian certainly made an impact on nesting grounds in Georgia, the year is still set for a record number once the last turtle emerges from the last egg.
The state Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division announced Monday, “Sea turtle nests on Georgia beaches took a hit from Hurricane Dorian with about 20 percent of nests ‘still in the ground’ when the hurricane swept the coast. About three-quarters of the remaining nests were either destroyed or waterlogged and poor hatching success is expected. Roughly 80 nests are still incubating on Georgia’s coast.
“The good news: With 3,928 loggerhead nests laid since April — the most ever recorded since surveys began in 1989 — an estimated 240,000 hatchlings had already emerged before Dorian arrived.”
According to data collected and submitted to seaturtle.org, tides and storms contributed close to a third of all significant nest losses, but more nests were lost thanks to predation of usual suspects like raccoons and feral hogs.
The last known laid nest was a green sea turtle effort on Cumberland Island on Aug. 21, and as of press time, the last emergence was from a loggerhead nest Tuesday on Cumberland. Kayla Silva on Cumberland put the number of nests lost there at 110, or around 10 percent, and as of one week ago 45 nests were still in the incubation process.
Interestingly, St. Simons Island didn’t break nesting records this year, despite the unusually active season. St. Simons closed out the season with six nests total, seven sort of the 2016 record of 13. Catherine Ridley, SSI Sea Turtle Project coordinator, said the Sea Turtle Project has some plans in the works to hopefully make the island a more-inviting place for future nesting seasons.
“There were likely many reasons for our lower numbers, but I suspect that lighting issues and other human activity were at least partly to blame,” Ridley said. “When you look at Georgia’s developed islands, especially St. Simons and Tybee, you see a common theme. These problems essentially amount to a type of habitat loss — we have stretches of beach that would otherwise be great nesting habitat, but with too much artificial light, they’re effectively lost to turtles. If SSI is ever going reach our full potential and contribute to the recovery of the species, those are issues we have to take seriously and correct through increased education and stronger ordinances.
“This winter, we’re planning to launch a new community-wide sea turtle certification program. Local businesses and citizens will be able to complete different levels of turtle-friendly actions to demonstrate their commitment to wildlife. And with the help of a new online rating system, beachgoers will be able to choose which hotels, condos, and restaurants to support based on the business’ track record and compliance with conservation measures. Glynn County’s lighting ordinance is also decades old, so we hope to take a look at strengthening that language as well. I’m excited about everything we have planned. Our community works so hard to support sea turtles and other wildlife, and we want to ensure everyone has the tools in place to take action.”
As they wrapped up their efforts on Ossabaw Island, Caleigh Quick announced through the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative that she and Breanna Sorg, from May through September, collected 247 balloons from the more than 10.6 miles of shoreline on the island — an example of land-based trash that frequently ends up as marine debris.
“One of the many things that impact (loggerhead sea turtle) status is plastic pollution; they often mistake balloons for jellyfish,” Quick wrote. “Additionally, the attached ribbon can entangle birds and other wildlife. The health of our oceans directly impacts both human and wildlife well-being. In addition, helium is a non-renewable resource and is used in the medical field for respiratory ailments to treat conditions such as asthma and emphysema. There are so many other ways to honor a loved one; balloons do not go up to your heaven, they come down on ours.”