Threatened sea turtles break nesting records in Georgia, Carolinas

Threatened sea turtles break nesting records in Georgia, Carolinas
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Rare giant loggerhead sea turtles are breaking records for nesting this summer along beaches in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The turtles, weighing up to 300 pounds, have left more than 12,200 nests, according to The Associated Press, far ahead of the 11,321 nests counted in the previous highest count in 2016.

Researchers and volunteers have catalogued the record number of nests on beaches in the Southeast, with scientists crediting decades-old conservation efforts for the rise in egg-laying.

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The species, which typically nests from May through August, is a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Biologist Mark Dodd, who leads Georgia's sea turtle recovery, told the AP that the increase in nesting could be due to more stringent monitoring and a requirement that shrimp boats have escape hatches for sea turtles. 

“They’ve been able to survive to maturity and reproduce and come back to lay eggs,” Michelle Pate, who leads South Carolina's sea turtle program, told the wire service. “It’s been a long haul, but I think we’re finally seeing it pay off.”

Loggerheads from the Atlantic Ocean lay roughly 100 eggs the size of pingpong balls per nest, the AP noted. During the nesting season, volunteers along the coast comb the beach every day around sunrise to record new nests and cover them with protective screens.

More than 3,500 loggerhead nests were catalogued in Georgia, and 7,100 were catalogued in South Carolina, according to the AP; North Carolina, meanwhile, is approaching its record of 1,622 nests.

Florida has more loggerhead nests than any other state annually, so it does not do an official count until the end of the season, the AP reported. In 2016, the state had a record of 122,707. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission sea turtle researcher Beth Mongiovi told the AP in a statement that Florida was so far having a "robust season.”

“As to this being a record year for loggerheads, it is too early to say,” she said.