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Number of loggerhead sea turtle nests along Georgia coast slips
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The number of loggerhead sea turtle nests along Georgia’s coast slipped to 688 this year, the third-lowest total since daily monitoring began in 1989. But the preliminary figures released today by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division characterize long-term trends and not an abrupt decline in the federally threatened species, according to Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist in the division’s Nongame Conservation Section.

"The annual variability of nesting is high," said Dodd, who coordinates the Georgia Sea Turtle Program. "What I’m really concerned with … is the long-term trend."

That outlook also raises concern. A 35-year nesting trend that began with counts on three Georgia beaches shows an annual decline of about 1.5 percent. The turtles, which can grow to more than 300 pounds, face significant threats from commercial fishing, habitat loss and boat collisions.

The 2007 total comes from a more comprehensive survey of the state’s 13 major barrier islands by Wildlife Resources biologists and a network of volunteers and researchers from other agencies. Public support also comes from sales of hummingbird and bald eagle license plates, and the State Income Tax Checkoff, all of which benefit Nongame Conservation projects.

This year’s nest count trailed the 1,400 documented last year and 1,219 in 2005. The number peaked at 1,508 nests in 2003. The annual average since 1989 is 1,023. The federal recovery plan for loggerheads sets an average of 2,000 nests a year over 25 years as the goal in Georgia.

The word from other state sea turtle coordinators is that loggerhead nesting this year also rated below average for beaches in the Southeast, according to Dodd.

He said data suggests that loggerheads, Georgia’s most common sea turtle, have switched from a four-year nesting cycle with one low year and three medium-to-high years, to a three-year cycle featuring one low and two medium-high years.The bright side is that strandings, turtles found dead or washed up on beaches, are down. Dodd said 82 strandings have been reported since Jan. 1, far fewer than the 106 listed during the same period in 2006.

- Georgia DNR

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