It’s been a kind year for sea turtles, thanks in part to the efforts of Doug Hoffman and his team, which has been working to protect as many as 570 nests of giant loggerhead sea turtles along the beaches of Cumberland Island.
Hoffman notes that protecting the nests requires an extensive amount of physical effort, requiring long hours under the hot Georgia sun, and a lot of plodding through the thick, sandy beaches. Cumberland Island is a protected Federal park and is a favorite place for giant loggerhead sea turtles to lay their eggs.
The loggerhead sea turtle is one of the most widely distributed oceanic turtles in the world. The sea turtles can be found in temperate waters as far north as Northern Europe and as far south as the tip of South America. The turtles spend much of their life at sea, but come ashore to lay eggs.
Once, these sea turtles were widely hunted for their eggs and meat, though legislative efforts by governments around the world have helped reduce such consumption. Regardless, loss of habitat, pollution, predators, and other activities have resulted in the sea turtles becoming an endangered species.
While adult sea turtles face few predators due to their large size and protective shell, young sea turtles and especially hatchlings are very vulnerable to predation. Adult turtles do not protect their nests or their young, leaving eggs and hatchlings vulnerable. Crabs, foxes, birds, and numerous other animals prey on young turtles, resulting in high mortality rates.
37 years of protection under Federal law, along with the effort of numerous conservationists and volunteers, has resulted in sea turtle populations rebounding. Now, for the fifth season out of six, loggerhead nest numbers have risen, reaching 2,292 counted. Hatching season generally runs from May through August.
From 1989 to 2009, Georgia averaged just over 1,000 nests, but numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. Thousands more nests are spread out across Florida, where the hatching season will run through October.