Turtle team

A sea turtle hatchlings crawls across a St. Simons beach.

Nesting season for loggerhead sea turtles is in full swing, and the number of nests on Georgia’s beaches this summer indicate a continued recovery of the at-risk population.

Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources who coordinates sea turtle conservation efforts in the state, said Thursday that while nesting numbers are above average this summer, the approximately 1,630 nests found and recorded so far are below what’s been seen in recent years when nesting has taken place at high rates.

“We’re predicting maybe 2,400 nests, which is definitely lower than the biggest nesting year in 2019 when we had almost 4,000,” Dodd said. “It’s down from previous years.”

The fluctuations in total numbers are influenced by sea turtle nesting patterns. Female loggerheads do not nest every year and typically return every two to three years to lay their eggs.

“It really is a big ordeal for them,” Dodd said. “They have to migrate here, they have to put somewhere between five and seven nests down in a three-month period. They’re nesting every 12 to 13 days.”

Conservation workers, including staff at DNR and volunteers, walk the state’s beaches every morning and evening throughout nesting season, which begins in May, to monitor the beaches and keep track of and protect nests.

Beach visitors during the summer are asked to keep an eye out for nests, which are clearly marked, and to avoid using light on the beaches at night. White light can disorient a turtle or its hatchlings.

“Don’t use light on the beach, and if you do make sure it has a red filter,” Dodd said.

Beachgoers can also help protect the nesting process by filling in holes dug on the beach, picking up all trash before leaving and knocking down sandcastles at the end of each day.

It’s still early in the season, Dodd noted, so it’s unlikely to see nests hatching yet.

DNR and other state conservationists are closely watching the recovery of the loggerhead sea turtle population. Nesting numbers recorded so far this year offer a reason to continue being optimistic that the species is recovering, Dodd said.

“In 2004, we had only 350 nests in the whole state, so we’re luckily coming out of that and we appear to be in a recovery period,” he said. “We still have a long way to go to recover the population to where it was prior to the decline.”

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