Group says sea turtles heading to Georgia’s beaches may be in danger

GEORGIA — Advocate group One Hundred Miles asked a federal judge to stop the US Army Corps of Engineers from performing maintenance at the Port of Brunswick scheduled for next week because they said the Corps did not conduct a required environmental review of the project.

Georgia’s loggerhead sea turtles are federally protected.

One Hundred Miles said dredging for sediment and buildup near the port during nesting season could undo decades of conservation efforts to protect them.

For the past 30 years, the Corps performed maintenance dredging in the winter, outside of turtle nesting season.

“Females are already in the waterways. They’re waiting, they’re visiting the channels during their inner nesting intervals, and they’re right in the path of the Corps’ dredges,” said Catherine Ridley, with One Hundred Miles.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources also voiced concern.

In a letter to the Corps last month they wrote, “The removal of seasonal dredging windows may result in increased mortality that may affect population recovery.”

A Savanah federal judge is scheduled to hear the case May 20 at 9 a.m.

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“One of the things that we are extremely concerned with is making sure that we protect wildlife,” explained Billy Birdwell, a senior public affairs specialist with the Corps’ Savannah District.

Birdwell wouldn’t discuss the lawsuit but explained the Corps uses turtle excluders and small boats that drag bars across the bottom of waterways, so turtles move out of the way of dredge boats.

In court records, the Corps stated the sediment build up is so high around the Port of Brunswick that ships delivering cargo must wait for high tide to get in.

“We want to balance commerce and we want to balance nature. And if we can do that, then we have succeeded at our mission,” Birdwell said.

Sea turtles have been laying their eggs on Georgia’s coast since dinosaurs walked the earth. Ridley said she wants to guarantee that ritual continues long after we’re gone.

“We’re going to take the steps today to make sure that the turtles are protected,” Ridley said. “For my child and our children and future generations.”