Wildlife Project:Sea Turtles Need Our Protection
At One Hundred Miles, we’re proud to be Team Turtle! We celebrate the groundbreaking and globally-significant research going on right here across our coast – research and education that has truly fueled a culture of conservation. There’s much to be proud of, both with these ancient and mysterious species and the dedicated scientists who work every day to protect them.
Georgia’s Sea Turtles
Five species of sea turtles nest, forage, or migrate through Georgia’s waters: the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), green (Chelonia mydas), loggerhead (Caretta caretta), kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).
The loggerhead is coastal Georgia’s most common nester. Named for their oversized skull and large, crushing jaws, loggerheads are reddish-orange in color and attain an average weight of 250 pounds. The turtles use their powerful jaw muscles to feed on crabs, whelks, and other mollusks.
While Florida records the largest concentration of nesting loggerhead sea turtles in the world, other Atlantic loggerheads nest northwards into Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. This group, known as the Northern Nesting Recovery Unit, is genetically distinct from the loggerheads that nest in southern Florida. If this colony is lost, it is unlikely to be replaced.
The Amazing Journey
Every summer, the sandy dunes of Georgia’s barrier islands are host to hundreds of seasonal visitors – nesting loggerhead sea turtles, who journey onto land to lay their soft, leathery eggs. A sea turtle’s nest is sloping and narrow, shaped much like a vase or an upside-down light bulb.
The nesting female creates the 18-24 inch nest with only her back flippers and lays an average of 120 of the ping pong ball-sized eggs in every clutch. She will cover the egg chamber with thrown sand and torn vegetation, disguising its location from potential predators.
The warm sand dunes act as a nursery ground for the vulnerable eggs, which take around sixty days to develop. Hatchlings escape from the nest at night, hoping to evade hungry ghost crabs, sea gulls, and raccoons as they scramble to the sea. Once in the water, only the female will ever return to land, after approximately 34 years at sea. She will visit the same general stretch of beach where she herself was born, laying an average of four clutches every 2-3 years.
An Ancient Species at Risk
Since the time of the dinosaurs, sea turtles have existed throughout the world’s oceans. Today, all seven species are listed as federally threatened or endangered. The causes for this decline include habitat loss, boat strikes, accidental entanglement in marine debris, poaching, and capture and drowning in commercial fishing nets. Additional dangers include pollution, infectious diseases, and natural predation. While estimates vary, it is believed that as a result of these threats, only about one in four thousand sea turtles will survive to reproductive maturity.
Tips for a Turtle-Friendly Summer
- Leave your bright lights at home (or carry red “turtle-friendly” lights). White lights can deter nesters and cause hatchlings to crawl the wrong way. If you live by the beach, turn off exterior lighting and draw your shades at night during turtle season (May-October).
- Take your beach chairs and gear home with you – our discarded gear cause unnecessary obstacles for turtles and may cause them to false crawl.
- Fill in sandcastles, which create roadblocks for nesting mothers and hatchlings.
- Never litter! Ensure all trash, including plastic bags and six-pack rings, are properly disposed of or recycled.
- Slow down in the water! Boat strikes account for a significant number of sea turtle deaths annually.
- If you’re lucky enough to encounter a nesting sea turtle or hatchling, please watch from a distance and never disturb a nest. All species of sea turtles in Georgia are protected by state and federal laws.
- Educate yourselves, and others. Visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island to learn more about these amazing animals.
- Follow along! Track our coast’s nesting progress.
- To report a dead or injured sea turtle, please call 1-800-2-SAVE-ME.