Originally created 10/11/05

Loggerhead nests up from last year



SAVANNAH, Ga. - With the sea turtle nesting season almost over, biologists have recorded 1,219 loggerhead nests along the Georgia coast.

That's a big improvement over the dismal 2004 season, when only 368 nests were counted, but it still continues the long-term downward spiral for nesting. Annual nesting totals are highly variable, but the overall trend in Georgia shows a decline of about 1.5 percent a year during the past 30 years, says Wildlife Resources Division Wildlife Biologist Mark Dodd, who serves as the Georgia Sea Turtle Program coordinator.

"This year's nest numbers are not going to change that long-term trend," he said. "If we had four more years in a row at 1,200 or 1,500, that would be something."

Listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is Georgia's primary nesting sea turtle. The recovery goal for the species is to reach an average of 2,000 nests per year over a 25-year period.

That goal represents the estimated number of nests in Georgia in 1978, the year the turtle was first listed as threatened, Mr. Dodd said.

Turtles nested on all 13 of Georgia's barrier islands this year, laying clutches of as many as 120 eggs in the sand.

Four nests were identified on Tybee. That's one fewer than last year, but they were productive nests, with 178 hatchlings recorded, according to Lara Griffith, the sea turtle project coordinator at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.

Ms. Griffith saw a female loggerhead dig a nest in early June and saw the hatchlings emerge and scramble to the sea two months later.

"Forty-two came out the first night," she said.

Georgia beaches play host to about 1.5 percent of the loggerhead nests in the United States annually, with Florida hosting the vast majority of U.S. nests.

Georgia scientists continued a program of tagging nesting turtles with satellite telemetry devices to determine where they go between their two or three visits to the beach to lay eggs from May through September.

Mr. Dodd hopes to use the information from a dozen turtles tagged this year to find ways to reduce interactions between loggerheads and shrimp boats. Turtles can drown in shrimp nets, particularly without the use of turtle excluder devices: grids that fit across the opening of shrimp trawls to keep turtles from entering the nets.

Biologists also recorded four leatherback nests; two green sea turtle nests; and, a first in Georgia, a Kemp's Ridley nest on Wassaw Island.