Georgia - Rare sea turtles are smashing nesting records this summer on beaches in the Southeast, with scientists crediting the egg-laying boom to conservation measures that began more than 30 years ago. Giant loggerhead sea turtles weighing up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms) crawl ashore to dig nests in the sand every summer along the southern Atlantic coast. While nesting typically occurs from May through August, record nest counts set in 2016 have already fallen in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. So far this year, researchers and volunteers in those three states have cataloged more than 12,200 nests left by loggerheads, a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act. That’s already far ahead of the 11,321 nests in the previous highest count three years ago.

“My laboratory is almost floor-to-ceiling in samples right now,” said University of Georgia professor Joe Nairn, who studies adult female turtles using DNA extracted from eggshell samples taken from each loggerhead nest found in the three states.