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First Piping Plovers, Now Sea Turtles Descend on Cape Hatteras National Seashore


Loggerhead turtles, such as this female, are one of five species of sea turtles found at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. NPS photo by Ben Porter.

Call it serendipity, the fate of the gods, or simple biology, but it seems that Cape Hatteras National Seashore is undergoing an invasion of sea turtles. And that means more beach closures to off-road vehicles and pedestrians.

At last report, there were 111 confirmed nests laid by sea turtles, an increase of about 30 percent above normal, according to biologists with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. And about 70 percent of those nests have yet to hatch.

Under a consent decree reached earlier this year between the National Park Service, the National Audubon Society, and Defenders of Wildlife, the National Park Service can block access to areas of beach with unhatched nests until those nests hatch.

As experienced in 2007 under the Interim Strategy, and again this season, some full beach closures will be implemented as turtle nests approach "day 50" (from the date when the nest was laid) in expectation of hatching. Under the terms of the Consent Decree, beginning September 15, all sea turtle nests that have reached their hatch window at day 50 will result in full beach closures until those particular nests hatch. As of August 21, 2008, there are 111 sea turtle nests on national seashore beaches, of which, 31 nests have hatched.

Now, some closures that had been implemented due to nesting piping plovers, terns, and Oystercatchers are being reopened.

And while a nighttime prohibition on beach driving is still in effect throughout the Seashore from May 1 to November 15 between 10:00 pm until 6:00 a.m., seashore officials are developing a permit to allow night driving between September 16 and November 15.


Nice to see that Cape Hatteras is finally doing what it needs to to protect wildlife at the seashore. It's been overrun by 4x4s for far too long.

It is indeed a fact that in the CHNSRA, Post-CD, all nests within the 50-day window require full beach closures for a certain distance either side of the nest to ORV’s and in some cases pedestrians as well. The reason for this is: Tire tracks make it difficult for the hatchlings to reach the sea after hatching. That makes sense, but here’s the kicker: Beaches are closed from 10PM until 6AM. Turtles only hatch at night, so ORV’s are out of the picture during the hatching event. As to the tire track scenario, a two-man crew armed with garden rakes and 15 minutes of time could make the stretch of beach in front of any nest flat as a pancake, allowing for daytime passage of ORV’s. This could be accomplished by civilian stewards, the NPS rangers themselves, Audobon Society volunteers, or pro-access group volunteers. Pro-access folks have been symbolically lining up to volunteer for such a detail, and other services such as nest sitting as well. The question of such volunteerism has been suggested to Spt. Murray, but no final answer has come down. However, there is a very realistic fear that the SELC et al will not endorse it, as civilian volunteers are not “trained” in such areas. It’s pretty much an all-or-nothing mindset for those guys.

There’s also the fact that on Pea Island NWR to the north, 11 of 17 turtle nests were moved to make way for an upcoming dredging/sand replenishment operation on the South side of Oregon Inlet. Nests are not moved in the CHNSRA, even in light of the Pea Island situation. Nests that are directly adjacent to access ramps could be moved to previously closed areas away from beach routes, allowing for more miles of access/through routes to adjacent ramps. Why can nests be moved in an area <30 miles distant, but not in the CHNSRA?

The most prevalent explanations for not moving nests are that with all reptile eggs, incubation temperatures dictate sex of the hatchlings. Also, turtle eggs contain an air bubble within the egg that the embryo uses to breathe during gestation. The air bubble attaches itself to the top of the egg nine hours after hatching, so any moves of nests must be done within this 9-hour window.

Every morning in the pre-dawn, NPS Rangers ride ATV’s down the coast in search of newly laid nests. Once found, they are temporarily roped off by the ranger on the ATV, thus protecting them from any intrusions. The decision as to the possibility of moving nests in dangerous areas could be made at this time. Dangerous areas could include high-traffic areas and areas known for high levels of predation.

Nests are moved regularly in all areas of the world that the loggerhead chooses to nest in. There is one blatant exception: They are NOT being moved in certain parts of the CHNSRA, which are currently being controlled by Audobon Society mandates.

It's actually the state of North Carolina and the FWS who oppose moving turtle nests and with good reason.



"It's actually the state of North Carolina and the FWS who oppose moving turtle nests and with good reason."

I'm a bit puzzled by your response. Who gave permission for moving 11 of 17 nests in Pea Island NWR? I would guess the NPS, USFWS and the State of NC. Also, I think I covered the more important reasons for not moving and when it is possible to do so. Those reasons being incubation temp's relative to sex determination as well as the 9-hour "air bubble window". I'm sure there are a myriad more.

If the USFWS and NC oppose the moving of nests, then who sanctioned these moves?

Can you please expand on your "good reason" statement?

Want to see something silly? Look at what the CONsent decree says has to happen on Sept 15;

26. After September 15 all remaining unhatched turtle
nests, once they reach their hatch window, shall be protected by
full beach closures, in addition to the fencing methodology
described in the Interim Strategy.

At midnite Sept 14 the rules of common sense change. The full beach will be closed dune to surf. No human may pass this closure, not by walking or driving. Is it that the turtles want to go into the dunes to play with the gulls & raccoons? The turtles want to go for a swim, they don't want to use the high beach.

The "fencing methodology" is a black 'silt' fence material. It is errected around the back side of the nests and a trench is dug to get this fence down into the sand. This traps overwashing seawater forcing it back onto the turtle nest on every wave. That is brilliant, normal overwash disipates over the beach except for here. Here the water is trapped around the nest to make sure these turtles have the hardest time possible hatching. What Aududon and Defenders have done here should be outlawed everywhere else for the sake of the critters they (sic) are said to protect. Yea, we can tell the best minds did not participate in designing this decree.

1. Only nests which reach 50 days after Sept 15 require a full-beach closure, even if they are more than 30 m from the dunes - because night-time driving begins with permits on Sept 15. (all nests behind which an ORV corridor cannot be established also require a full-beach closure).
2. Sea turtle hatchlings can and do emerge in the daytime. (they hatch up to three days before they emerge)
3. Because a sea turtle's sex is determined by the temperature at which it incubates the park is prohibited by the governing entity (NCWRC) from moving nests just because they are in ORV areas. PINWR's case is different as its beaches are highly erosion prone and nest loss is high. CAHA is permitted to move nests in high erosion areas, or nests laid below or too close to the high-tide line.
4. In 2004 civilian volunteers were used to rake out tracks in front of sea turtle nests in an attempt to open the beach for a fishing tournament. They did not live up to the agreement.

And yeah RDT folks, I am anonymous as I prefer to be able to get out of my driveway without having to sweep up nails with a magnet, as others have had to do. I prefer to eat or shop without getting harassed. I prefer not to see my picture and address posted at up at the Post Office, as has been done by those seeking to incite violence against others. I prefer not to worry about being shot or my house burned down just because I have a differing opinion.

The reason for the full beach closures after Sept 15 is because the night-time driving prohibition is lifted. Headlights behind the nests will cause the emerging hatchlings to travel toward that light.

Shut off the electricity to the islands every night and they wouldn't need that black fencing, which is used to block theORV, village and lighthouse light which disorients the emerging hatchlings.

Your comments reveal nothing more than willfull ignorance. You have computer access, you should already know this as the information is but a keystroke away.

Posted by
On August 27th, 2008
At midnite Sept 14 the rules of common sense change. The full beach will be closed dune to surf. No human may pass this closure, not by walking or driving. Is it that the turtles want to go into the dunes to play with the gulls & raccoons?

Not sure, could be........but if I were a betting man...I would bet that it has something to do with getting Night Driving Permits starting on the 15th and ensuring that ORV's stay off the beach. And yes, contrary to Mr. Wenks testimony to the Seanate Subcommittee, this is "Precedent" setting new environmental rule, as well as the excessive buffer distances mandated, and they WILL effect the Fall fishing season. All of these new "Precedent" setting new environmental rules were made outside of the NEPA process without and public input (contrary to all press releases you read) and no consideration on the context and intensity of the effects which could have "Significant" effect on the quality of the human environment required by 40 CFR 1508.27. I believe these are "Significant" affects on the human environment, never saw this listred on the Federal register, also against NEPA policy. Wonder why not??? If I am not mistaken.....the buffer distances put in the consent decree are USGS Protocols developed for CHNSRA, basically opinions by their technitions, and to this date, have not date listed on the publications, nor have been peer reviewed per their process so they can be considered "Best Available Science"......

I guess I could go on and on....however, this is making me ill and anxious, so I believe I will end here. Have a great day

Scott Lambright

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