Heri Juanda/AP/File
Baby turtles make their way into the ocean upon their release during a campaign to save sea turtles on Lampuuk beach in Aceh Besar, Indonesia, on April 8, 2013. Conservationists report that nesting sea turtle numbers are up in South Carolina this year.

Efforts to help baby sea turtles reach the sea are finally paying off

Nesting sea turtle numbers have hit record highs in several southern US states, prompting conservationists to hope that the species could be on the road to recovery. 

Sea turtle lovers can rejoice: the marine reptiles are nesting in record numbers along the southeastern coast of the United States, according to biologists.

After sea turtle nesting rates hit new lows in the early 2000s in states like Georgia, conservation efforts have brought upon a resurgence in the turtle population.

"We definitely think our nests are increasing because of conservation efforts and community awareness," Kendra Cope, a coastal environmental specialist with Indian River County in Florida, told CBS12. 

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission reported 1,628 nests along the state's coast this summer, a 25 percent increase from last year. South Carolina reported 6,357 nests, a state record. Both Georgia and Florida conservationists expect record nesting numbers as well, as the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

“We hope it means more turtles,” North Carolina sea turtle biologist Matthew Godfrey told the Journal. “But it does mean more hatchlings are back in the water, so we’re happy.”

Most of these sea turtles are loggerheads, a species that is currently considered threatened or endangered under the US Federal Endangered Species Act, depending on the population's location. Those who originate in the Northern Atlantic, and are found on the East Coast of the US, are considered threatened. 

Although this year’s nesting season shattered records, with North Carolina’s nesting population growing 25 percent over last year and Florida seeing over 600 more nests this year than the state’s last record-breaking season, conservationists are still cautious.

Sea turtle biologists say that one good year cannot offset the sea turtle’s population decline, but trends do appear to be positive for the turtles, with Georgia hitting its 2028 nesting turtle goal midway through the summer this year.

Advocates credit public awareness and conservation efforts with raising sea turtle numbers. Hundreds of volunteers spend late nights and early mornings on the beach during nesting season, marking nests and covering them with wire to protect vulnerable eggs from predators.

When hatching season arrives, about two months after a female turtle establishes her nest, volunteers help shepherd the tiny turtles to the water’s edge. At that point, the loggerheads are on their own, facing predation, boat strikes, and a 35-mile journey to the Gulf Stream. About one in every thousand sea turtle hatchlings makes it to adulthood.

About 70,000 hatchlings made it to the water in North Carolina this year, Dr. Godfrey told the Winston-Salem Journal. In order to be taken off the threatened list, sea turtles must regularly dig 2,000 nests in North Carolina, 2,000 nests in Georgia, and 9,200 in South Carolina.

Simply monitoring the turtles is a wonderful way to spread awareness, says Ms. Cope, of Indian River County.

"We've been monitoring nesting across the county since 2005," Cope told CBS12." It gives us a chance to spread the word on how you can not only protect the turtles but protect your own coastal environment."

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