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Who doesn't love turtles?

June 3, 2014
Four baby turtles in someone's hand

Many states with coastal regions play a major role in the lives of sea turtles, and Georgia is no exception. Turtles in general (not just sea turtles) are a major animal in Georgia’s wildlife. Georgia’s state reptile is a Gopher Tortoise, in fact. However, especially around this time of year, sea turtles can be spotted nesting on our Georgia beaches at night. The first Loggerhead turtle nest of the season was spotted just a few weeks ago.

Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) nest the most on the Georgia coast, typically from early May to late August. They are cyclic nesters, meaning they nest every 2-3 years (so those that nest this year may not nest again until 2016 or 2017).

Sea turtles, in general, are pretty fascinating creatures. Check out these cool facts:

  • Sea turtles nest and hatch at night. Some people say they nest more during high tide (full and new moons) so they don’t have to crawl as much on the beach (an extremely strenuous effort).
  • Turtles are born without a sex. Their gender is determined during the incubation period (as many other reptiles). They are the opposite of alligators, so warmer temperatures produce females and cooler temperatures produce males.
  • Males never return back to land (except for the Green Sea Turtle in Hawaii).
  • Turtles do not have gills—they need air to breathe. When they’re resting, they can stay underwater for hours.
  • Sea turtles can’t ever leave their shells or retract into their shells.

Safety Tips

If you’re planning on going to a Georgia beach, such as Jekyll Island, keep in mind these quick tips to ensure the safety and health for our sea turtle mamas and their babies:

  • Don’t be alarmed if you see a sea turtle crying. Male and female sea turtles do this in order to get rid of the excess salt in their eyes.
  • Do NOT disturb turtle moms while they’re looking for a place to nest. If a turtle feels threatened or can’t find a proper nesting environment, they can do a “false crawl.” This is where they return back to the ocean without laying eggs. If this happens many times, she will let the eggs go into the ocean or she will reabsorb them.
  • Do NOT touch the baby turtles or try to help them get to the ocean. No matter how tender and harmless your intentions, helping the babies find the water will actually do them more harm than good. They have homing senses that allow them to return to the same region where they were born, so if you move them, it could mess up their sense of direction when they’re ready to return.
  • Bright artificial light hurts the nesting females and their hatchlings. For the mamas, if they see bright lights as they’re trying to nest, they might do a false crawl. For the hatchlings, they use light cues and shadows to find the ocean so artificial lights can throw them off.

Rather than exploring on your own, try joining a Turtle Walk with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island (part of the Jekyll Island Authority). They do nightly walks from June 1 to July 31, so be sure to call and reserve your spot soon! You can follow an expert to not only learn more about turtles, but that way you know you’re being safe and following the proper procedures to ensure the turtles’ safety too.

Photo Courtesy of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

About the Author

Bethany McDaniel is the Interactive Web Content Manager for GeorgiaGov. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, GA with degrees in Visual Communication and History.