For many species abundance data from across their entire range are incomplete, and therefore it is difficult to accurately assess their conservation status. Even for species that are large, charismatic and relatively easy to study, conservation assessments are often hampered by lack of data. Here we report a marked, previously undescribed, increase in numbers at a breeding colony of the loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta, a species that is Critically Endangered in several parts of its range, and place this report in the global context for this species. We present a 10-year (2008–2017) dataset of nesting activities for this species on the island of Sal, one of the Cape Verde islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Foot patrols recorded 21,938 nests during the study period. We estimate that the annual number of nests on Sal increased from 506 in 2008 to 7,771 in 2017. Taking into account that there are only two known loggerhead turtle rookeries (on Masirah Island, Oman, and in Florida, USA) with > 50,000 nests reported annually, and few with > 1,000 nests per year, our results suggest that Sal is one of the 10 largest loggerhead turtle rookeries globally. Our work highlights the conservation significance of reporting trends in abundance at breeding sites for marine turtles and other taxa.