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Georgia's Sea Turtles

Posted by Administrator on 7/10/2013

One of the great things about living in a new place is the ongoing process of discovering all that’s wonderful and compelling about it. For example, a recent trip to the Golden Isles off Georgia’s coast provided a world of information on Georgia’s enchanting Sea Turtles.


Five species of sea turtles are found in Georgia's marine waters, with loggerheads being most abundant. The other species are Leatherback, Green, Kemp’s Ridley and Hawksbill. All five species are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and hold state and/or federal status as threatened or endangered.


Due to their temperate climate and protected dunes suitable for nesting activities, Georgia's barrier island beaches host an average of 1,000 sea turtle nests per year. In winter, most sea turtle species dwell in warm tropical waters. During the months of late spring, summer, and early autumn, they either inhabit or traverse Georgia's waters. Since official records were initiated in 1964, all of Georgia's coastal counties have had reports of nests or stranded turtles.


Sea turtles are migratory marine reptiles whose ancestors have inhabited earth's oceans for about 205 million years. Except for their incubation period, sea turtles spend their entire lives swimming and floating at sea. Females come ashore only to nest. Due to this "invisibility," many aspects of sea turtle life cycles remain unknown.


Georgia's sea turtle conservation programs are a collaborative effort among private, state, federal, and international projects. The main threats to sea turtles in Georgia are the destruction of their nests and eggs and offshore mortalities associated with commercial longline fishing or shrimping activities. Because they live near the ocean's surface, sea turtles in one region are affected by threats occurring elsewhere, such as poaching, loss of habitat due to development, and marine pollution. All species of sea turtles face extinction, mostly due to human causes.

Population and nesting studies in Georgia began at Little Cumberland and Blackbeard islands in 1964 and 1965 respectively. By 1989 all Georgia barrier islands except three had monitoring and protection. The severity of threats against the dramatically dwindling sea turtle populations has galvanized conservation in Georgia. In an effort to standardize data collection and conservation procedures, barrier-island managers along the Georgia coast enacted the Georgia Loggerhead Recovery and Habitat Protection Plan in 1994. In 2007 the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which provides veterinary care to and public education programs about sea turtles, opened on Jekyll Island.


What can we do as individuals? Educate others about these fascinating creatures and join in conservation efforts. If you find a turtle carcass, witness nesting behavior, or observe someone injuring or killing these protected animals, contact the local Department of Natural Resources office. These ancient animals, whose life cycles and ecological functions are still so little known, are fascinating manifestations of our earth’s rich biodiversity.
Source: Georgia Sea Turtle Center
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