ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Each year, conservationists are counting more and more green sea turtle nests on the beaches of Florida. And 2015 was no different. This time, the vulnerable sea turtles set a nesting record -- with three weeks of nesting season still left to go.
Every May, researchers and volunteers begin to count the numbers of sea turtle nests along the Southeastern coast. In Florida's Brevard County, the counting is conducted by students and researchers working with the University of Central Florida's Marine Turtle Research Group.
So far, the group has counted more than 12,000 nests in the county's portion of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge -- a new record, surpassing the 11,839 nests tallied in 2013. Nesting season continues through Oct. 1.
The beaches of the Southeast, especially the east coast of Florida, serve as vital nesting grounds for green sea turtles in the Atlantic, as well as other turtle species like the loggerhead. Strong protection programs in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas have helped the sea turtle dramatically rebound in the region.
"This is really a comeback story," biologist Kate Mansfield, an assistant professor at UCF and head of the school's research group, said in a press release.
"Back in the 1980s, the beaches UCF monitored hosted less than 50 green turtle nests a year," Mansfield added. "It is a really remarkable recovery and reflects a 'perfect storm' of conservation successes -- from the establishment of the Archie Carr, to implementing the Endangered Species Act, among many other conservation initiatives. It will be very exciting to see what happens over the next 20-plus years."
The road to recovery for the green sea turtle has been long, and conservationists say it will be another 20-plus years before success can be truly declared. Green sea turtles don't begin reproducing until they're at least 25 years old.
Conservationists remain committed to ensuring the turtle is protected for decades to come. Last year, the federal government set a record of its own, protecting 685 miles of nesting beach and some 300,000 square miles of ocean for the preservation of vulnerable sea turtle species.