Historic Summer for Endangered Sea Turtles at Cumberland Island


Photos and information provided by Kayla Silva, an SCA intern at Cumberland Island National Seashore. Note: Please do not handle sea turtles. Only those with permits (like Kayla) can do so.

Cumberland Island National Seashore consistently has the most sea turtle nests of any beach in Georgia. Miles and miles of undeveloped beach provide one of the most important loggerhead sea turtle nesting areas in the state. And at Cumberland Island, it’s been a record-breaking summer for sea turtle nests.

You may remember our post celebrating the 1,000th nest milestone, whick broke the previous record of 867 set in 2016. Now that number is at 1,017. This is encouraging news for scientists and Student Conservation Association interns who have worked on sea turtle conservation over the years. The turtle project is overseen by the park’s biologist and utilizes SCA wildlife management interns. You can monitor the number and breakdown of nests on Cumberland Island, here.

So, which sea turtles are nesting at Cumberland Island? Kayla Silva, a six month SCA intern currently serving at the park, talked with us to introduce two prominent species: loggerhead and green sea turtles.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

You may wonder where loggerheads get their name. It’s a nod to their large head and powerful jaws, which make it easier to eat hard shelled prey. Loggerheads are the most common in Georgia and grow to an average of 250-300 pounds. Adults have a brown and amber coloration. Their hatchlings are slightly smaller than greens and have more of a dark gray and amber color.

Photo by Kayla Silva

Kayla’s photos of loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings from nest #791. 

Green Sea Turtle

It wouldn’t be fair if we left out how green sea turtles got their name. As it turns out, it comes from the greenish color of the turtles’ fat from their diet. They are equipped with a serrated jaw that aids in shredding vegetation to eat. You can tell green sea turtle hatchlings from loggerheads because of their dark black and navy coloration, and they have this prominent white outline on their shell and flippers. They’re also larger than loggerheads as both hatchlings and adults (that can weigh 350-400+ pounds). Green sea turtles have a smaller head to body ratio compared to loggerheads and have a tortoise pattern on their shell.

Kayla’s pictures from hatched green sea turtle nest #741. Cumberland Island had 14 green sea turtle nests at last count (the most in Georgia!) and this was the second to hatch.

Photo by Kayla Silva

Photo by Kayla Silva

What You Can Do to Help

The most important thing to keep in mind is that only those with special permits can handle sea turtles. Both loggerhead and green sea turtles are either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, six of the seven sea turtles found in U.S. waters are also federally threatened or endangered. You’ll want to do your research and keep a safe distance to not disrupt their beach activity.
Want to keep up with sea turtles? Seaturtle.org is a good resource, most beaches on the east coast that have sea turtle nesting report to this website. It’s where we enter in our nesting data and inventory data. Great place to keep up with how many nests everyone has to to see where they are on the beaches. Also has options to track turtles! 
Reporting dead or injured turtles in 
Georgia- 800-272-8363
SC- 1-800-922-5431
FL- 888-404-3922

Interested in helping Cumberland Island National Seashore’s Sea Turtle program? Check for SCA positions listed, here. And check out this story about an SCA internship that  turned into a full-time job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.