"Historical nest counts from the 1970's indicate we still have a bit to go to reach recovery levels, but this may be the beginning," states a S.C. Department of Natural Resources news release.
The agency reported that for this year, a record 4,604 sea turtle nests were laid on South Carolina beaches. Of that number 4,596 were loggerhead, and the rest were green and leatherback turtles.
The federal government classifies loggerheads as threatened, with global populations declining due to pollution, coastal development, and rising human presence on nesting beaches. The animals are also targeted for harvesting and become trapped in fishing gear. In South Carolina so far, 118 sea turtles have washed ashore and become stranded. Only 21 were alive.
The reptiles are 3 feet long, can weigh more than 250 pounds and reach sexual maturity at age 35. In the southeastern U.S., loggerheads mate from late March to early June, with females laying three to five nests in a year.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources said last week that loggerhead turtle nests are up 11 percent since last year. Officials counted 2,200 nests on Georgia coasts during the summer, the third year in a row of record-breaking totals for the threatened animals.
Total estimated nesting in the U.S. is approximately 68,000 to 90,000 nests per year, according The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office of Protected Resources.
Long-term nesting data show loggerhead declines in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and southeast Florida, according to NOAA.
Wildlife officials in the two states, along with North Carolina and the University of Georgia, have been working together on loggerhead nesting questions, using DNA genetic fingerprinting to track behaviors.