Each year, the Golden Isles welcomes bales of sea turtles to its shores for nesting season. While nesting season is an exciting time for visitors who want to get a peek of these majestic creatures, it’s important to understand the delicate nature of a successful nesting season where sea turtles and beach-goers coexist.
Most species of sea turtles are endangered and there are a variety of factors working against their survival, including habitat destruction, accidental capture or injury, climate change and more. In the Golden Isles, you’ll find five of those seven species—all of which are protected by state and federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act of 1973, to help prevent some of those threats.
To date, conservation efforts have had a positive impact on sea turtle livelihood. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources has charted nearly 2,000 loggerhead sea turtle nests per season in the last five years. According to the DNR, that number is rising about 3 percent each year. Despite these gains, there is still much to be done. That’s why, in the Golden Isles, we rely on the responsible participation of our visitors to protect the sea turtles that come to our shores every year.
Below, frequently asked questions and tips to be a responsible beach-goer during sea turtle nesting season:
Which species of sea turtles are endangered?
There are seven different species of sea turtles found throughout the world and unfortunately, most are classified as endangered or vulnerable:
- Leatherback: Vulnerable
- Loggerhead: Vulnerable
- Green Turtle: Endangered
- Flatback: Data Deficient
- Hawksbill: Critically Endangered
- Kemp’s Ridley: Critically Endangered
- Olive Ridley: Vulnerable
Which species of sea turtles are most commonly found in the Golden Isles?
Undoubtedly, Loggerhead turtles are the most common sea turtles to nest in the Golden Isles. In fact, 95% of nests here are Loggerhead nests. Although not nearly as common, other species that have nested or been spotted along the Georgia coast include Greens, Leatherbacks and Kemp’s Ridleys.
When is sea turtle nesting season?
Sea turtle nesting season in the Golden Isles begins in May and can last through August. If you’re visiting the Golden Isles during that time, it’s important to be conscious of your surroundings and any clues that sea turtles may be in your vicinity.
How can I find sea turtle nests?
During nesting season, female sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in a nest called a “body pit.” It’s common to see sea turtle tracks leading from the ocean to the dry patch of sand where the body pit was constructed—an easy way to determine where sea turtle nests are located. You can also view a variety of nest monitoring resources to find out where sea turtle nests in the area are located.
How does light impact the well-being of hatchling sea turtles? Are there lighting ordinances in the Golden Isles to protect sea turtles?
Once hatched, baby sea turtles journey from the shore to the ocean. Hatchlings rely on moonlight to find their way from the nest back to the ocean. Unfortunately, they can be easily thrown off course by bright flashlights, lights on beachside property or beach chairs and furniture too close to their nest. Each county in the Golden Isles has introduced its own lighting ordinances to help protect sea turtles.
Do your part at the end of your beach day by taking all of your belongings with you to leave an unobstructed path for hatchlings and mothers. It’s also incredibly important to bury any holes or sandcastles as nesting females and hatchlings can fall and become trapped. And if you’re venturing out at night in hopes of spotting a sea turtle, use only sea turtle friendly lighting to guide your journey. No flash photography!
Can I touch sea turtles that I see on the beach?
If you encounter a sea turtle on the beach, do not touch it or take it. Review local laws related to native wildlife and always observe the turtle at a distance as not to disturb its journey from the nest to the ocean. If you’d like to learn more or get a bit closer to these animals, take a guided sea turtle tour or walk led by a local conservationist.
Where can I learn more about sea turtles and sea turtle conservation?
For more information about endangered sea turtles and sea turtle conservation efforts in the Golden Isles, visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in Jekyll Island. This research, rehabilitation and educational facility features a hospital where sea turtles are treated directly on-site. Guests can visit the rehabilitation pavilion to check in on patients and learn more about the rehabilitation process.
How can I support endangered sea turtle conservation efforts?
There are many ways to support sea turtle conservation efforts. In the Golden Isles, you can participate in the Turtle Crawl, an annual event to raise funds for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. There are also a variety of national and international organizations accepting donations toward conservation efforts. There are even some creative ways to donate—like the option to adopt a sea turtle through the World Wildlife Fund