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Monday, July 15, 2013 - 1:02am

Turtle Experts: Conservation Paying Off

Sea turtle experts say multi-year jumps in loggerhead nesting could be a sign of things to come.

Increased nesting numbers correspond with historic efforts to save the endangered species.

With a few weeks still to go in this year's nesting season, sea turtle watchers on Wassaw Island near Savannah are reporting a record number of nests.

Up and down coast, it's been an above average year.

And each of the past three years have set records.

Georgia Coastal Resources Division sea turtle program coordinator Mark Dodd says conservation is a key reason for the increase.

"Most of our nesting females are between 30 and 35 years old before they're sexually mature," says Dodd. "And 30-35 years ago was when some of the beaches began protecting nests."

But Dodd says science can't tell for sure what's behind the numbers and vigilent protection should continue.

Loggerheads are protected on the East Coast by laws against hazards such as poaching, trawler nets and beach lighting.

Kris Williams of the Savannah-based Caretta Reseach Project says the numbers correspond with historic efforts to save the species.

"I think it has to be because of all of the years of conservation on the coast," says Williams. "It takes between 25 and 35 years for a loggerhead to reach sexual maturity and some of the islands have started protecting nests in the 60's and we started in the 70's."

Researchers caution they don't know exactly what's behind the numbers.

Turtle nesting season runs through the end of August.

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