Rare sea turtles smash nesting records in Georgia, Carolinas
Saturday, 13 July 2019 () SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Rare sea turtles are smashing nesting records this summer on beaches in the Southeast, with scientists crediting the egg-laying boom to conservation measures that began more than 30 years ago.
Giant loggerhead sea turtles weighing up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms) crawl ashore to dig nests in the sand every summer along the southern Atlantic coast. While nesting typically occurs from May through August, record nest counts set in 2016 have already fallen in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
So far this year, researchers and volunteers in those three states have cataloged more than 12,200 nests left by loggerheads, a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act. That's already far ahead of the 11,321 nests in the previous highest count three years ago.
"My laboratory is almost floor-to-ceiling in samples right now," said University of Georgia professor Joe Nairn, who studies adult female turtles using DNA extracted from eggshell samples taken from each loggerhead nest found in the three states. "It's pretty obvious to us that this is a big year."
Loggerheads crawling from the surf of the Atlantic Ocean lay roughly 100 pingpong-ball sized eggs per nest. During the nesting season, volunteers from North Carolina to Florida comb the shoreline each day around sunrise to catalog new nests and cover them with protective screens to keep out wild hogs and other predators until the eggs hatch.
The nest counts serve as a key indicator of the overall population's health. Female loggerheads tend to lay eggs only every three to four years, so the numbers often fluctuate. Still, scientists have seen an encouraging leap in the past 15 years.
Loggerhead nesting along Georgia's 100-mile (161-kilometer) coast hit its low point in 2004 with...