Though nesting numbers are down from recent, record years, experts say it's not cause for concern.

Tammy Smith records GPS data for a turtle crawl on Tybee Island in 2019.

Tammy Smith records GPS data for a turtle crawl on Tybee Island in 2019. The state Department of Natural Resources tracks this data as part of their sea turtle conservation efforts. EMILY JONES / GPB NEWS

Credit: Emily Jones / GPB News

Sea turtle nesting is off to a slow start this year, though experts said the low numbers were not a serious concern. 

About 425 sea turtle nests have been spotted on Georgia beaches this year, as of Wednesday morning. At this point two years ago, when the turtles set a record, there were around 1,000.

But Mark Dodd with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said after several huge years, he was expecting fewer nests this year.

“Turtles don't nest every year and they usually have to take a year or two off to get enough protein to be able to come back and nest,” he said.

Because sea turtles take about 30 years to mature, nesting is expected to plateau or even decline in the coming years because of low nesting numbers in the 1990s and early 2000s, then explode once the hatchlings from recent seasons grow up.

The record nesting seasons of recent years were also a result of that 30-year cycle.

After years of declining nesting numbers and populations, protections for sea turtles and their nests on the Georgia coast began about three decades ago. The hatchlings born then grew up to lay the nests documented over the last several seasons; genetic research has shown turtles generally return to the beaches where they were born to lay eggs.

Protections remain in place for nesting turtles. It is illegal to tamper with their nests or disturb the eggs. Beachgoers should also avoid using lights on the beach at night, because they can confuse turtles coming ashore to dig a nest.