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Loggerhead sea turtles return to nest on Jekyll Island: It’s All in the Numbers

Katie Doherty, AmeriCorps Service Member with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center Research Department, processing loggerhead hatchlings from a hatched nest.

Since first being tagged on Little Cumberland Island in 2003, “Adelaide,” a loggerhead sea turtle, has gone on to lay at least 29 nests on Jekyll Island. Red lights are used to minimize disturbance.

Shown exhibiting atypical dawn nesting behavior, “Princess Greg,” a loggerhead sea turtle, has nested on Jekyll Island at least 24 times since 2012.

"Princess Greg" making her way back to the ocean after nesting.

Utility terrain vehicle used to cover thousands of miles of beach each season to encounter nesting sea turtles.

By Dr. Tom Radzio

GSTC Research Ecologist

Female loggerhead sea turtles arrive each year on Jekyll Island to lay their precious eggs, typically more than 100 at a time. And when that happens, there is a good chance that a Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) AmeriCorps service member will be there to carefully document the event. “We are learning about these animals so we can better protect them,” says Katie Doherty, AmeriCorps service member. Every night during the nesting season, GSTC research teams can be seen patrolling the beaches seeking to locate and monitor every loggerhead sea turtle nest on the island, 136 this year! Collectively, nest monitoring throughout the Golden Isles suggest the possibility of a rebounding loggerhead population.

In addition to nest monitoring, the GSTC and its regional collaborators also seek to understand loggerhead turtle trends by studying the fates of individual nesting females. Take for example, “Dr. Shelly,” a majestic female loggerhead. First seen nesting here in 2008, she nested on Ossabaw Island in 2011 before returning to nest on Jekyll Island in 2013, 2016, 2018, and 2020, laying six nests this past season. Because very few hatchlings survive to adulthood, laying many eggs (over 2,500 in Dr. Shelly’s case!) is key to loggerhead population persistence.  Though spectacular, Dr. Shelly’s repeat visits to Jekyll Island aren’t uncommon. This past season, GSTC documented 55 different loggerheads nesting on the island, of which nearly half are known to have nested here in past years.

You might wonder how GSTC researchers keep track of all these individuals. Genetic samples, flipper tags, and passive integrated transponders, the same technology used to microchip the family pet, are used to uniquely identify nesting females. Because they nest all around the island, encountering turtles can be challenging. Thanks to generous past donations from the Jekyll Island Foundation donors, GSTC researchers use utility terrain vehicles to find most nesting females and can provide exciting educational program opportunities as a result.  We hope you’ll join us on the beach next season or anytime at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center where you might hear more about the incredible wanderings of Dr. Shelly and other turtles that visit our shores! 

Support the ongoing work of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center! Text GiveJekyll + $ amount to (844) 889-2692.

Contact Us

Jekyll Island Foundation

P.O. Box 13002, Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Phone: (912) 635-4100