The DNR’s sea turtle expert, Mark Dodd, sent out this note on this year’s nesting season. It’s a very encouraging forecast and a testament to the volunteer work done by so many along the coast.
I wanted to send out a quick note on the status of loggerhead nesting in Georgia. As of today, I am very excited to report that we have documented 2,600 loggerhead nests on Georgia beaches. We have already surpassed last year’s nest record (2,335 nests) with at least one more week of significant nesting before it slows down in mid- July. In most years, a noticeable decline in nesting occurs in mid-July (approx. half the nesting level seen during the peak of the season). I anticipate that we will reach our Federal recovery goal of 2,800 nests sometime early next week. The Federal recovery goal is an important milestone for assessing loggerhead population recovery in Georgia. The number represents a 2% annual increase in nesting over a generation time (50 years). Reaching the recovery goal does not necessarily mean the population will be immediately taken off the endangered species list. There are several other criteria that must to be met before the Federal agencies would consider delisting including achieving nesting goals for other Recovery Units (subpopulations), increasing trends in juveniles at in-water research sites and reduced stranding rates. Most other loggerhead subpopulations in the southeast show increasing nesting trends but are many years from reaching their nest recovery goals. That said, hitting the Federal recovery goal in Georgia will be a significant event for us and represents an important step on the road to population recovery.
This year’s big nesting numbers have led to some very busy days for many of you on the turtle beach. The prize for the busiest day goes to The SCA interns Lynsey Neilan and Avery Young on Cumberland Island. They located 32 nests in a single day in early June. They started surveying at 6:30 AM and didn’t finish with the last nest until 8:00 PM. Toward the end of the day, they weren’t sure they were going to get done by dark. Honorable mention goes to Joe Pfaller of the Caretta Research Project on Wassaw who located 17 nests in a single night. This may not sound completely unreasonable until you consider that he and his crew had to intercept and tag each one of the animals. Tori Gray on Little St. Simons receives honorable mention as well. Tori had an 11 nest day and is required to survey 12 km of beach by bike. She has to drag all her materials strapped to her beach cruiser. It has been a tough summer for many of you, and we are very grateful for the hard work. The data is critical for assessing population status and making important management decisions.
In other important news, hatching season has officially begun in Georgia. We had our first nest hatch the night of July 5th on St. Catherines Island. Please let me know when you get your first hatch, and we will make arrangements to come out and do inventory training. Given the high temperatures we experienced early in the season, we expect relatively quick incubation durations for early nests. We are recommending that those of you that use fine-mesh screening to protect nests to pull the screens at 45 days incubation.
In other news, shrimp trawling season opened in state territorial waters on June 1. Trawler mortality is a major threat to the recovery of loggerhead populations. We documented a total of 134 shrimp trawlers during our aerial survey on opening day. This is slightly below the average of 146 trawlers over the last 16 years. The general fishing pattern was consistent with past years where trawlers made a couple drags along the beach and moved back offshore within a day or two. There was a large concentration of boats fishing documented in the vicinity of Cabretta Inlet between Sapelo and Blackbeard Islands. Georgia DNR Law Enforcement spent a considerable amount of time conducting TED compliance boardings prior to the opening of the season. Most of the fleet was boarded at least once prior to June 1. We documented 2 dead reproductively active adult females in the 2 weeks following the opening. This is a relatively low number of adult females lost to trawlers on opening day. A special thanks goes out to our Law Enforcement Division for the excellent job with TED enforcement this spring.
Overall, sea turtle strandings have been below average for the last 6 weeks including the week following the opening of shrimp season (week 24, n=5). No large scale mortality events have been documented this year.
Overall, the sea turtle nesting season is going extremely well. We can’t thank everyone enough for all the hard work and careful attention to detail so far this year. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.
Senior Wildlife Biologist, Nongame Conservation