From the time sea turtles hatch, they face a gauntlet of threats—natural predation, entanglement with fishing gear, plastic ingestion, poaching and more. In fact, only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings are expected to make it to adulthood. But in a rare dose of optimism for these charismatic creatures, the Associated Press recently reported great news: sea turtles laid a record-breaking number of nests along southeastern U.S. beaches this year.
“It can take over 25 years for some sea turtles to reach maturity, so it’s really promising to see these nesting increases after several decades of intensive conservation work in the U.S.” says Oceana marine scientist Tess Geers. “All sea turtle species that nest in the U.S. are either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, so this is great news for these creatures.”
Here are a few regional highlights this year:
- Over 12,000 green sea turtle nests at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, Florida—one of the biggest nesting grounds for sea turtles in the Western Hemisphere
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC saw 289 nests this summer, breaking its 2011 nesting record
- Georgia set a new nesting record of 2,333 nests
- Though not a record-breaking year for South Carolina, nest numbers more than doubled 2014’s count
Sea turtles nest along the Southeast and Gulf Coast regions each year, laying nests roughly from May through August that hatch into the fall season. Sea turtles lay about four to five nests per season, and nest every few years—meaning that nesting numbers fluctuate from year to year. For example, 2014 saw relatively low nesting numbers across the southeast, while nest numbers were higher in 2012 and 2013.
“Though it’s of course encouraging to see these numbers, it’s important to remember that nesting is cyclical and is likely to dip again,” says Geers. “Hopefully, however, this is indicative of an upward trend for sea turtle numbers in the U.S., but it’s too soon to say.”
Of the seven sea turtle species, five nest on U.S. beaches—loggerhead, green, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill turtles, though loggerhead and green turtles nest most predominantly. All five are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Oceana campaigns to protect sea turtles in a number of ways, including the protection of their habitat, advocating for reduction in sea turtle bycatch, the incidental take of sea turtles in fishing gear, and by calling for the use and enforcement of turtle excluder devices (TEDs). You can learn more about all sea turtle species on Oceana’s Marine Encyclopedia.