Loggerhead sea turtles continue to make a comeback thanks in part to the Carretta Research Project, supported by the Georgia Ports Authority, and long-term protections along the Georgia Coast.
The 2017 nesting season on Chatham County's Wassaw Island is off to a well above average start with 125 nests. Last season, the CRP — which since 1973 has tagged every loggerhead that’s nested on Wassaw — reported a record 333 nests. The CRP is the longest continuously run saturation tagging program still in existence in the U.S.
"The GPA has been partnering with the CRP since 2004 and their support has been integral in helping us maintain our program on Wassaw Island," CRP director Kris Williams said. "This kind of partnership is a great model for how business and conservation programs can work together in protecting our natural resource.
Courtesy of Joe Pfaller -- Caretta Research Project volunteers and staff monitor loggerhead sea turtle nests on Wassaw Island.
The GPA's partnership with the CRP allows staff and volunteers to live on Wassaw during the nesting season, collect data and monitor and protect the nests. Through this program, scientists are able to learn more about the population, trends and nesting habits of the loggerhead.
This season, 76 volunteers (43 people for the first time) have partnered with CRP staff to monitor loggerhead nests. Williams said there are still a few volunteer openings throughout the summer that the CRP hopes to fill.
The organization works to enhance survival of eggs and hatchlings on nesting beaches. Georgia recorded 3,265 loggerhead sea turtle nests in 2016, making it the highest year on record since statewide monitoring of beaches began in 1989.
CRP workers patrol the beaches nightly, looking for traces of loggerheads. Once a female turtle lays eggs, a staff member checks for tags, takes measurements and collects a biopsy for research projects in collaboration with the University of Georgia and the University of Florida. One egg from each nest is also removed for genetic studies with the University of Georgia.
Workers will relocate nests to safer areas if needed so they won't be inundated by monthly spring tides. Plastic screening covers every nest to prevent predators such as raccoons and red fox from destroying the eggs.
Williams said an average clutch is 120 eggs and there have been no hatched nests yet this season. Nesting continues through July with hatching following into October. Since its inception, the CRP has released 286,000 hatchlings.
For more information about the CRP, go to carettaresearchproject.org.