While riding in a truck on Cumberland Island National Seashore's magnificent beach the other day with park superintendent Fred Boyles I noticed numerous wooden stakes sticking out of the white sand in the upper part of the beach, next to the first row of sand dunes.
Each stake, Fred explained, was put there by workers to mark a sea turtle nest where eggs are still incubating in the warm sand. As we rode along, I tried counting the stakes but gave up after about 200 — there were just too many of them.
This has been a record year for sea turtle nesting on Cumberland and Georgia's other barrier beaches — a total of 2,208 nests since the season began in April. The number easily tops last year's total of 1,992, the previous record high since comprehensive monitoring began in 1989.
Nearly all of the nests were made by loggerhead sea turtles, an endangered species in Georgia. A few nests were those of three other endangered sea turtles — leatherback, green and Kemp's Ridley.
Cumberland's beach by far was this year's busiest nesting spot, with 687 nests (compared with 366 last year), according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Blackbeard Island, a national wildlife refuge, had the second highest number, with 304 nests.
DNR workers and volunteers spent long hours this season relocating hundreds of turtle nests, each containing an average of 100 eggs or more, to safer locations on the beaches to protect them from storm surges, extra high tides and predators such as wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos and coyotes.
The nesting season ended in early August. During the past several weeks, baby sea turtles have been hatching out by the scores on Georgia's beaches and will continue to do so through October.
Temperature and instinct dictate that the little turtles, each no bigger than a half dollar, claw their way out of their sandy nests at night and crawl toward the stars hovering over the sea — and then into the ocean that will be their home for the rest of their lives. On some beaches, though, lights from condos and hotels may confuse them and lure them landward to their deaths.
However, most of the baby turtles won't reach adulthood for various other reasons, including predation, disease and injuries. Those that survive may live 60 years or more.
In the sky: This weekend's full moon will wane over several days, rising about an hour later each night. Venus rises out of the east about three hours before sunrise, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Mars is low in the west just after dark and sets in the west a few hours later. Jupiter rises out of the east about midnight. Saturn is very low in the west and sets shortly after dark.
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