The southeastern coast has seen an astonishing number of sea turtle nest this year. North Carolina, among other states, have all broken records.
This year’s numbers are some of the highest the state’s beaches have seen in the past 10 years. Even with the numbers growing, this is no surprise to sea turtle organizations.
The nest count tallied by North Carolina researchers showed on July 13th that more than 1,640 loggerhead sea turtle nests have been found on the state’s beaches. That breaks the state’s 2016 record of 1,622 nests.
Likewise, nesting records have been shattered in Georgia and South Carolina, where the giant turtles crawl ashore every year to lay their eggs in the sand.
Loggerheads lay roughly 100 ping-pong-ball sized eggs per nest. During the nesting season, volunteers from North Carolina to Florida comb the shoreline each day around sunrise to catalog new nests and cover them with protective screens to keep out beachgoers and other predators until the eggs hatch.
The nest counts serve as a key indicator of the overall population’s health. Female loggerheads tend to lay eggs only every three to four years, so the numbers often fluctuate. Still, scientists have seen an encouraging leap in the past 15 years.
The rebound can likely be traced to two key conservation measures taken up decades ago. States have stepped up monitoring and protection of sea turtle nests since loggerheads were listed as a threatened species in 1978. And shrimp boats trawling in U.S. waters since 1987 have been required to equip their nets with escape hatches for sea turtles.
Scientists suspect those decades-old efforts are showing big results now because female loggerheads don’t reach full maturity and start nesting until they’re about 30 years old.
Experts say that number could change as there are still four more weeks left in the season.