Saving sea turtles

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UGA researchers received a $1.3 million grant to continue genetically “fingerprinting” the threatened loggerhead sea turtles in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Using DNA fingerprinting, researchers can identify turtle mothers and their offspring to gauge how well the loggerheads are recovering after decades of population decline.

Loggerhead sea turtles were put on the endangered species list in the 1970s. Found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, loggerheads are some of the largest and most visually striking turtles in the world. Once hunted for their meat and eggs, loggerheads also have historically been prone to being unintentionally entangled in fishing nets. Combined with naturally high mortality rates for small juveniles, this caused the turtle’s populations to decrease significantly worldwide. During the 2013 nesting season, the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative counted a new record of nearly 2,300 loggerhead nests, up from a low of 358 in 2004.

The project, of which the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources is a part, began in 2008. The funding comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.