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Loggerhead hatchling meets ocean. Photo by Becky Skiba, USFWS.

Georgia Aquarium and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team up to save loggerheads

The Georgia Aquarium, internationally recognized for aquatic animal research and conservation, is lending a hand closer to home.

The Aquarium has contributed $11,000 for sea turtle conservation on the Georgia coast as part of a fledgling alliance between the Aquarium and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Coastal America Partnership. The money was granted to the Savannah-based Caretta Research Project, the nonprofit organization that protects federally threatened loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) on the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge, one of Georgia’s coastal barrier islands.

Working with USFWS, the Caretta Research Project will use the donation during this year’s nesting season from mid-May to September for equipment and supplies used to monitor loggerhead sea turtles on the refuge. Volunteers work in all-night shifts to patrol the island’s7-mile beach, measure and tag loggerheads, protect their eggs from raccoons and feral hogs, and relocate nests laid too close to the ocean.

Jane Griess, the USFWS Project Leader overseeing the Wassaw NWR, said the Aquarium’s donation is critical now more than ever, with fewer federal dollars available for sea turtle recovery work.

“We’re having to rely on volunteers and our partners to help fund the supplies and equipment needed for sea turtle monitoring and nest protection,” Griess said. “The Aquarium’s donation allows us to continue this very important work.”

Caretta Research Project Director Kristina Williams said, “We are extremely grateful to the Georgia Aquarium for recognizing the importance of the Caretta Research Project and for helping us to continue this research and education program.”

The Caretta Research Project has been tagging loggerhead sea turtles on Wassaw NWR since 1973, the second longest-running loggerhead sea turtle saturation-tagging project in the nation.

Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president and chief veterinary officer of the Georgia Aquarium, said “The Georgia Aquarium’s mission to promote conservation and education is dedicated to making a difference in the aquatic community. We recently came to the aid of five stranded juvenile sea turtles off the eastern coast and are currently monitoring their health, working to rehabilitate the animals for their release this summer. We are pleased to further our efforts by partnering with the federal government and the Caretta Research Project lending our expertise, staff and funding to help with research and conservation of this incredible species and its habitats here on our home coast.”

Wassaw NWR is a key part of a standardized nesting beach survey program that allows scientists to monitor population trends, evaluate changes in nesting success, and determine hatching success of nests. This information allows for an assessment of the effects of human activities on turtles and their nests and the identification of areas where increased conservation efforts may be needed.

Nesting within the loggerhead’s Northwest Atlantic northern recovery unit, of which Georgia is a part, is in steady decline. Since 1983, daily beach surveys between the Georgia-Florida border north to southern Virginia show a 1.3 percent annual drop-off. On-shore threats to their continued survival include beach armoring, beach erosion, light pollution and predators. Off-shore, the turtles are at risk from incidental capture in commercial fishing equipment, boat strikes, marine debris ingestion, oil pollution, illegal harvest, and numerous other threats.

Wassaw NWR is one of only a few islands along the Georgia coast that have recorded an increase in loggerhead nests, due primarily to its protected status as a refuge and nest protection effort. The has also become an important research hub, with studies from the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern University and the University of Florida that shed light on the reproductive histories and nesting site choices of individual females.

In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service announced the loggerhead sea turtle may be globally comprised of nine distinct population segments, based on genetics, migratory movements, and oceanographic and geographic barriers. Loggerheads that hatch on Georgia beaches are part of the Northwest Atlantic segment, which the agencies have proposed to reclassify from threatened to endangered.

About the Georgia Aquarium

The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, is the world’s largest with more than eight million gallons of water and the largest collection of aquatic animals. The mission of the Georgia Aquarium is to be an entertaining, educational and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards; offering engaging and exciting guest experiences promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. The Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit the Georgia Aquarium website.

About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Please visit the Service’s websites at fws.gov/southeast or fws.gov.

About the Caretta Research Project

The Caretta Research Project (CRP) is a non-profit environmental organization located in Savannah, GA. The project was founded in 1972 by a family member of the Wassaw Trust, herpetologists at the Savannah Science Museum and staff of the USFWS Savannah Coastal Refuges. To learn more, go to Caretta Reserach Project.

About Coastal America

Coastal America is a partnership among federal, state and local governments and private organizations to protect, preserve and restore our nation’s coasts.

Contact

Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220
Website: https://www.fws.gov/external-affairs/public-affairs/

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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