Loggerhead Sea Turtles Are Making a Comeback0
Georgia’s coast is dotted with loggerhead sea turtle nests this summer, which means that in about 60 days, it’ll be swarming with tiny, adorable hatchlings, making their long trek to the sea. This year, those hatchings could number more than a quarter million, which is not just adorable — it’s also a conservation milestone.
These beautifully colored sea turtles got their name because their oversized head sort of looks like a big log. Within their heads are powerful jaws, which loggerheads use for crushing prey like conchs, horseshoe crabs, and other animals with hard shells. They also eat softer foods like jellyfish, fish, seaweed, and a brown algae called sargassum.
Loggerheads live in oceans all over the world, except in the coldest seas. There are more loggerheads in the waters of the United States than any other species of sea turtle.
A female loggerhead sea turtle may travel thousands of miles to return to the beach where she hatched as a baby to lay her own eggs as an adult.
A loggerhead female generally nests every two to three years. On average, she’ll lay eggs four times in one nesting season. Each time, she comes ashore and uses her front flippers to clear a spot in dry sand. Then she uses her hind flippers to dig her nesting hole and gently lay her eggs.
Those that remain undisturbed hatch about 60 days later. Hatchlings dig their way up through the sand toward the surface and wait just underneath the last layer of sand until nightfall.
Once cooler temperatures signal that the sun has set, the hatchlings pop the rest of the way out and scurry toward the ocean avoiding raccoons, crabs, birds, and other predators.
In 1978, loggerheads were classified as a threatened species, and six years later the state of Georgia set a goal to bring the population back to 2,800 nests by 2028. For many years, that goal seemed a long way off. Most years averaged about 1,000 nests, and 2004 was a particularly rough year, with only 358.
So far, this summer’s total is over 2,890. Neighboring states Virginia and the Carolinas are also loggerhead habitats and have seen turtle numbers increase this summer, but they haven’t reached their recovery goals yet.
Loggerheads are the most abundant sea turtles in the United States. Females can travel thousands of miles to return to the beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. In one nesting season, they will lay an average of four egg clutches, and then produce no eggs for two to three years. Loggerhead hatchlings are born into a dangerous world full of predators, like birds and crabs.
They scamper through this obstacle course into the ocean to begin the cycle again.
Loggerhead sea turtles hatching. Sebastian, Fl
As Georgia’s turtle population booms, Florida is also making loggerhead news, but for a less heartwarming reason. Earlier this month, a man was arrested for stealing 107 loggerhead eggs. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, he could have been paid between $3 and $5 per egg on the black market because, supposedly, they are delicious. Instead, he was fined $100 per egg, for a total of $10,700.
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