Wildlife officials check turtle nests on Ossabaw Island

Published: Jul. 20, 2016 at 7:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2016 at 9:01 PM EDT
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OSSABAW ISLAND (WTOC) - From the beginning of May to the end of August, female sea turtles are making the trek to south Atlantic beaches to nest.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division has a full-time staff that checks on all the nesting sites, with the help of interns, up and down the Georgia coast.

Wednesday, we got a look at how sea turtle nests are doing on Ossabaw Island.

Declining populations left loggerhead turtles a threatened species, with only around 300 nests in the state as early as 2004.

"And that turned around sometime in the mid-90s. And since then we've seen a significant increasing trend. So our conservation efforts seem to be having an effect. The population is increasing, and this year we're actually having a record nesting year," said Mark Dodd, DNR Seat Turtle program coordinator.

We'll have a full report ahead on WTOC at 6 p.m. on what those increasing numbers are and mean not only for the turtle population but for the condition of our oceans.

Sea turtles are iconic along the Georgia coast, but they're a threatened species following years of poor fishing practices and a lack of habitat preservation. Even though there's a long way to go, wildlife experts are optimistic about the loggerhead turtles fate.

"Over the last 10 years, we've really averaged about 1,200 nests. So we're over twice that this year. So that's really exciting," said Dodd.

He says they'll likely record around 3,200 nests this year, the highest number of nests since they started comprehensive surveys in 1989. Dodd, alongside a regular staff and summer interns, works tirelessly to document each nest from its creation to the hatch.

"Right as you're starting to get tired, and getting really worn down and worked out, the hatchlings emerge, and it kind of excites you back again," said Ashley Raybould, DNR Wildlife Tech – Nongame Conservation.

While out checking nests, we happened to discover a fresh hatch and a straggler bringing up the rear.

"This guy here is just, kind of a knucklehead. He didn't get out with everybody else," said Dodd.

Along the way the conservation crew puts these protective mesh squares over the nests, to help keep predators out, and preserve future generations of loggerheads, who in turn could help preserve our existence.

"For us, we look at them as an important indicator of the health of the ocean ecosystem. And their decline was telling us something, which is some of our fishing practices and some of the other things we do to our oceans and our beaches, is having a significant effect on our wildlife species. Which ultimately, all of those things are going to affect us as humans and our ability to survive on the planet," said Dodd.

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