Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Despite Storms, Georgia Sea Turtle Nest Counts Top Record

Cooler weather has come to Georgia’s coast and with it the close of a record-breaking nesting season for loggerhead sea turtles. Due to storm impacts, however, a nest success rate slightly lower than normal is expected for the federally threatened species.

The good news is that 1,646 loggerhead nests were counted on barrier island beaches this summer. Cumberland and Blackbeard islands recorded the highest number of nests at 336 and 261, respectively. The season total represents a record year in Georgia, breaking the previous mark of 1,504 nests set in 2003. Last year’s total dipped to 688, the third lowest since daily monitoring effort began in 1989.

Federal criteria require at least 2,000 nests a year for a 25-year period for the species to be considered recovered.

In August, Tropical Storm Fay swept through the waters off coastal Georgia, creating a tidal surge that inundated and washed away some nests. The lack of a direct hit on the barrier islands tempered the storm’s effect. However, loggerhead nests still felt the impact.

Researchers and volunteers reported that high tides from Fay damaged approximately 8 percent of the nests. Probably another 25 percent were inundated multiple times, which can affect nest success.

“Generally we have about a 70 percent success rate,” said Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section. “We expect that this year it will be a little lower than normal. Luckily, approximately 50 percent of the nests had already hatched at the time of the storm, so we expect to still have a pretty good year for hatchling production.”

Final nest success numbers are tallied from multiple databases and will be released by early 2009.

Loggerheads, the most common sea turtle on Georgia’s coast, are state-listed as endangered. The nesting season runs from May through September.

Georgians can help conserve sea turtles and other animals not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as native plants and habitats, through buying wildlife license plates that feature a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. They can also donate to the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff. Both programs are vital to the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds.

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