Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2070 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025
Only seven species of sea turtles can be found in the oceans of the world, five of which are found in the waters off Georgia's coast. The loggerhead (Caretta caretta) is the only species to nest regularly on islands such as Jekyll, Sea, Sapelo, Ossabaw and other barrier islands. The green (Chelonia mydas) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtle are primarily tropical nesters, but may be found nesting occasionally on Georgia beaches. All species, with the exception of the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), are found seasonally foraging or migrating through Georgia's coastal waters.
All species of sea turtles found in Georgia are protected by state and federal law, principally by the Endangered Species Act. The Kemps ridley is the most endangered of the sea turtles, but all species are at risk. The loggerhead is listed as threatened worldwide and is the focus of much of the Nongame Conservation Sections sea turtle conservation efforts along the coast.
Like all sea turtles, the loggerhead is completely adapted to life in the ocean and depends on land only for reproduction. Only the female returns to the beach. When female turtles reach maturity (30-35 years), they leave the water and dig a nest in the sand on the beach, deposit the eggs, cover the nest, then return to the water. In each nesting season, a female may lay up to six clutches, each containing 100-150 small, white, leathery eggs. This process takes place every 2-3 years for each female. After incubating for about eight weeks, the eggs hatch, and the hatchling turtles emerge from the nest and scamper to the ocean.
Loggerheads in the United States nest from Virginia to Texas. The species nests in Georgia from late May to mid-August. Generally, female turtles nests on the same beaches each season, with some variations. It is widely believed that hatchlings, when grown, return to their natal beaches to nest. Florida hosts the largest nesting population in the U.S., while surveys conducted by Nongame Conservation Section biologists indicate Georgia averages approximately 1,000 nests per year.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) coordinates sea turtle conservation efforts in the state. Because loggerhead nests are subject to predation by raccoons and feral hogs, poaching and habitat destruction, the DNR maintains a group of cooperators - Georgia Turtlefolk - to monitor individual nests during spring and summer. Beachfront business owners and residents are also urged to reduce lighting of the beach during nesting season in order to avoid attracting hatchlings, who mistake the artificial lights for moonlight and are drawn away from the ocean.
In the water, sea turtles face threats including entanglement in or ingestion of plastics, accidental drowning in shrimp and fishing nets, collisions with boat propellers, poaching and habitat destruction. In addition to monitoring nesting activity, DNR cooperators monitor beaches for strandings, or dead turtles washing up on the beach. Strandings are the primary index to at-sea mortality of sea turtles. The use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) by shrimpers and other commercial fishermen and other conservation measures have reduced the occurrences of sea turtle deaths, yet these species still face a challenge to survival.
During the summer of 2005, Georgia DNR, in cooperation with University of Georgia, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted research to monitor inter-nesting and post-nesting migratory movements of loggerhead nesting females. Satellite transmitters were attached to 12 nesting females on Blackbeard and Sapelo islands. The information collected during this project will be used by fishery managers to reduce the probability of interactions between turtles and commercial fisheries. Tracking maps for loggerhead turtles tagged on Georgia beaches are updated daily on the seaturtle.org website: http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?project_id=82  .
Biologists urge the public to assist in conserving loggerheads and other sea turtles.
The following are some tips on what you can do to help protect Georgia's sea turtles:
To report a dead or injured turtle, or sea turtle harassment, call 1-800-2-SAVE-ME. (If the sea turtle is tagged, please include the tag color and number in the report if possible.)