Loggerhead sea turtles recently reached a conservation milestone during a strong nesting season along the beaches Georgia.

Wildlife officials announced last week that they have found over 2,890 loggerhead nests along 100 miles of coastline in the southern U.S. state. That is a record number for Georgia and is far more than the state had set as a long-term recovery goal for loggerhead sea turtles, according to The Associated Press.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles
(Photo Credit: National Ocean Service Image Gallery, Flickr)

Record number of nests in Georgia

The new record beat the previous one by over 550 nests and smashes the recovery goal. Officials had hoped to reach 2,800 nests by 2028, which marks 50 years since the U.S. government placed loggerhead sea turtles on the threatened species list.

Experts say that there are still a number of weeks left in nesting season, and the number could surpass 3,000.

“We never thought we would get here this quickly,” Mark Dodd, the biologist who oversees the sea turtle recovery program for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Friday. However he did warn that the job is far from finished. “We have a lot of other criteria we have to meet. But it’s a great milestone and a place to stop and congratulate everyone.”

Carolinas also reporting strong numbers in 2016

Robust nest numbers have been reported in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina since nesting season began May 1. Loggerheads can weigh up to 300 pounds and usually lay their eggs until the end of August.

By last Friday South Carolina had almost reached its record 5,193 nests, set in 2013, according to Michelle Pate, coordinator of the state’s sea turtle program. North Carolina was only 200 nests short of its record of 1,304 in 2013, said Matthew Godfrey, sea turtle coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

“It’s definitely above average,” Godfrey said. “It’s hard to say where we’re going to end up, but it’s definitely a good year.”

As it stands both of the Carolinas have a long way to go in order to reach their recovery goals. Officials ideally want to see 9,000 nests in South Carolina and 2,000 in North Carolina.

What is behind the recovery?

Loggerhead sea turtles make 90% of their nests in the United States in the state of Florida. Officials do not keep track of the number of nests due to the overwhelming number, and the state has no recovery target.

However last Friday Anne Meylan of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission revealed that data suggested the number of nests could be more than the 89,295 estimated last year. Despite encouraging signs, Meyland does not expect a record year.

In Georgia the situation has improved rapidly from an average of just 1,000 loggerhead nests per year around a decade ago. That represents just a third of the predicted total in 2016.

The recovery could be down to a number of different factors, said Dodd. Among them are shrimp nets with built-in escape hatches for turtles, and limited use of artificial light in island communities so as not to disorientate hatchlings as they craw towards the sea.

Loggerhead sea turtles look to have benefited from their inclusion on conservation lists. Advocates often point to the effectiveness of government support in raising awareness for threatened species.

It must be hoped that the encouraging signs of recovery among loggerhead sea turtle populations can be repeated for other animals.