BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Rare sea turtles have begun digging nests and laying eggs on beaches along the Georgia coast.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says the first loggerhead sea turtle nest of 2018 was found on Cumberland Island. The discovery Tuesday marked the fifth straight year staff on the federally protected island reported the season's first turtle nest.

Mark Dodd is a biologist who manages Georgia's sea turtle recovery program. He says he expects an above average nest count this year.

Loggerhead sea turtles are federally protected as a threatened species. Scientists have been encouraged by high nest counts in recent years.

Georgia counted 2,155 nests last year, the fourth-highest count in three decades, and saw a record 3,289 nests in 2016. The nesting season runs through August.