You are here

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Crushed By Vehicle At Cape Hatteras National Seashore


A loggerhead sea turtle that came ashore at Cape Hatteras National Seashore to lay its eggs was killed when a vehicle drove over it. NPS photos.

A loggerhead sea turtle coming ashore to lay its eggs was crushed by a vehicle at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, an incident likely to ratchet up the contentious debate over how much access off-road vehicles should have at the seashore.

The incident comes as seashore officials are pulling together a final Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed management plan for ORVs driving on the seashore's beaches. Seashore officials discovered the dead turtle Thursday morning about 50 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.

"We don’t know if it happened late the night of the 23rd or early morning of the 24th," Thayer Broili, the seashore's resource management chief, said Friday morning. "It happened on Ocracoke Island, towards the southern end of the Ocracoke Island, between two of the ramps, 70 and 72. We’ve reported it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and our rangers are doing an investigation."

Loggerhead turtles are a threatened species throughout their range under the Endangered Species Act. Adults can have a shell ranging up to 3 feet in length, and can top out at 250 pounds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Females don't reach sexual maturity until they're 35 years old, according to the agency.

Photos of the dead turtle clearly show that the vehicle rode right over it and then apparently became high-centered, as the driver backed up in an effort to free his rig, according to Chief Broili.

"In all likelihood it was an off-road vehicle to even be there," the chief said. "And they drug it about 12 feet. It appears that they stopped. They realized that they run over something and got out and looked and ran back over it. The turtle was a pregnant female that came ashore to lay its eggs and apparently it was migrating up or down the beach. We did recover some eggs the next morning, which we have transplanted to a nest, we don’t know if they’ll survive or not.”

While three species of sea turtles -- threatened green sea turtles, endangered leatherback sea turtles, and threatened loggerhead turtles -- come ashore to nest at Cape Hatteras, to date it has been a tiny bird -- the piping plover -- that seemingly casts the greatest shadow over the seashore’s management. These grayish-white birds with a black neck band, yellow legs, and a distinctive chirp are somewhat curious in their preference for nesting habitat, as they make small bowl-like depressions in the sand to lay eggs that blend in so well they can easily be overlooked and, unfortunately, easily crushed by feet and tires and available to predators.

Unfortunately, for Cape Hatteras beach-goers, these birds nest from late spring through July, and restrictions imposed to protect the birds block some stretches of seashore from those who prefer to drive their vehicles on the beach.

Now, though, the attention has been shifted dramatically to the plight of sea turtles that come ashore to nest. The seashore's sea turtle population has been doing relatively well in recent years. Last year the 104 verified nests were far above the 43 counted just five years ago. Those 2009 nests also produced roughly 5,000 turtle hatchlings, according to the seashore's annual sea turtle report.

Despite the relative boom in turtle nesting in 2009, there was no direct connection last year between ORVs and a sea turtle's death on Cape Hatteras, although there were some minor infractions, according to the seashore's annual report.

ORV violations of turtle closures were relatively rare. There were several accounts of vehicles driving below (i.e. ocean-side of) the expanded turtle closures in the morning before any washed out signs in the intertidal zone could be replaced. It is unknown how many hatchlings, if any, were affected by these actions, either by being run over or by being stuck in tire tracks. There were no observed losses to this type of violation, although it is known that hatchlings were emerging from NO30 (a green nest) during the same night that some of these violations took place (see above)

That said, there were at least two notable exceptions to that observation:

NBH10: On the morning of July 26th, staff on turtle patrol for the Bodie Hatteras District noticed that a nest closure was “missing” in the tri-village area. After going back through the area, she found that someone had removed the four signs, string, flagging, and PVC poles that were surrounding the nest site. Two of the signs were later found 0.2 miles down the beach. One sign was found behind the primary dune line with the PVC poles and the fourth sign was never recovered. Many sets of pedestrian footprints were found over the nest site. The eggs were checked and the closure re-installed at the expanded size. As the nest had a good success, it is unlikely that this incident resulted in any harm to the nest itself.

NH33: On the morning of September 2, staff on the turtle patrol for the Hatteras South run noticed that string was down at the NH33 nest site, which was an expanded closure just north of Ramp 49. It was found that a vehicle had driven though the sting at one end of the closure, run through the filter fencing, and then exited the closure by driving through the string at the other end. It is unknown whether the vehicle was also in violation of the CD nighttime driving restriction. The filter fencing was repaired and the closure expanded. There was no observed damage to the actual nest.

Chief Broili said this week's incident is the first anyone can recall in which a vehicle killed a sea turtle. The seashore's chief ranger on Ocracoke Island has been with the Park Service for 33 years, and grew up on the island, "and he said this is the first time that he’s aware of this ever happening," said the chief.

The section of beach where the turtle was killed is closed to vehicles overnight beginning at 10 p.m. under the seashore's temporary ORV regulations.

"We have night-driving regulations and everybody is supposed to be off the beach by 10 o’clock," said Chief Broili. "We think this happened after that, but we have no way to prove it.”

The incident comes just as turtle nesting on the national seashore is ramping up, according to the chief. So far 37 or 38 nests have been counted, he said.

"Overall, the past couple years have been very good for our turtles. We still don’t know what the overall season will be," said Chief Broili, "but this one poor individual got caught in a bad situation.”

Park Service rangers are being aided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents in investigating the matter.

“Who knows what this guy was doing," said Chief Broili. "It would seem that anybody who was driving down the beach at night with their lights on would see it. Who knows? This person could have been under the influence, young kids, relatively young people who were just ripping around not paying attention to what they were doing. Who knows? It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they did this intentionally.

"Who knows what the motives of people are?" he added. "They definitely knew that something had happened."


This is unacceptable. Ban driving on the beach entirely during nesting season. It's ridiculous.

And the attitude of the people down there at Hatteras, just like all the idiots who insist we keep on drilling in the Gulf while knowing full well the oil industry doesn't know the first thing about averting disaster, astounds me. It sickens me. I hope someday there is a reckoning.

This article seriously upset and depressed me. I hope they find the people responsible and throw the book at them. Of course the fines are never enough to compensate for this. I just can't understand how someone couldn't have seen a 3ft long turtle on the beach. I know it was night but vehicles have headlights. I can see mice run across the road at night with headlights on! I have a feeling that this was done on purpose. I may be wrong but it seems to me that the type of person that would ignore the regulations would have no problem smushing a turtle. I know several boys in my hometown that would do the same thing if they saw a box turtle on the road.

I hope her eggs hatch so that her efforts are not in vain.

"Unfortunately, for Cape Hatteras beach-goers, these birds nest from late spring through July, and restrictions imposed to protect the birds block some stretches of seashore from those who prefer to drive their vehicles on the beach."

If you are going to write something, then make sure it's factual.

These Major streches of beach closures are off limits to all Pedestrians and ORVs. Not-to-mention Dogs, kite flying and everything short of getting in the water people come to our beaches to do. Along with--these are our absulute best and most popular beaches.

Funny. The beaches in the Gulf are being closed to an enviromental disaster and revenue is being lost by the second and everyone cries and hollars foul.

Close a beach for the enviroment, which has the same effect and everyone says..Close more.

You should pat yourselfs on the back for a job well--screwed up.

How about no vehicle access!

And here we go with the "ban all driving down there" comments.....THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THIS HAS BEEN KNOW TO HAPPEN.....It is very sad, and it should have never happened but you can't control all idiots of the world. You could have the beaches at Hatteras permanently closed to driving forever and if someone wants to act like an idiot and drive anyway, they will......Perhaps the next time an endangered frog or salamander is run over on a highway somewhere in this country we should permanently close that road to all traffic....What needs to happen is NPS Law Enforcement should be focusing on Ocracoke right now and look for an SUV with undercarriage damage. No way someone could hit a turtle that size and not leave evidence.

First, the Kemp's ridley trussed up and drowned while being dragged behind a boat off Topsail Island, now this. I can't escape the realization that both these outrages occurred during an Administration that thinks so little of animals that there's still no movement whatsoever from Washington about BP's burning turtles alive in an effort to make its oil spill invisible. This is a hateful and ill-equipped White House.

At least George W. Bush was comfortable outdoors; remember all those times we saw him clearing brush on his ranch? You notice animals when you do chores. Compare that to the footage of Obama on the Gulf shore. I was reminded of Nixon walking on the beach in his wingtips and necktie. When Obama wanted a pet for his daughters, he consulted a Senator for Chrissake! We need a president who understands why people relate to turtles and birds and want them to continue to be around.

I don’t care if the public doesn’t want to hear about the suffering of marine animals. Five years, ten years, fifty years from now, that is all that will matter to Americans. Even those who don’t live at the shore — if anyone still does. When I ask my friends’ children about it, they are devastated to learn that they may never be able to see a live Kemp’s ridley sea turtle -- as I just did for the first time recently -- or a polar bear, for example.

From the NPS press release

"It is believed to be the first time a nesting sea turtle has been killed by an ORV at the Seashore."

Sort of parallels gun control. More rules, less guns, more crime.

No turtle ever harmed by vehicle for almost 60 yrs. In go the draconian Consent Decree rules and bingo, a problem.

My guess, rule breaker was driving without lights so as not to be seen and thus never saw the turtle. Had lights been on under pre-Consent Decree days, likely would not have happen.

The law of unintended consequences proven once again.

There is no reason that people need to drive on beaches, period, let alone at nesting season. The OBX redneck bullies who are so loudly in opposition to any limitations on ORV access are NOT the majority, they are just the loudest. They make all OBXers look like backwards, inbred, banjo-pickin' hillbillies, but they are outnumbered and out-funded by smarter and more rational people who are sickened -- but certainly not surprised -- by this. Accident? No. The rednecks who did this deliberately backed up over the turtle a second time. I'm sure they have one of the plover circle/slash stickers on their truck and probably a rebel flag as well. The OBX would be (or shall I say WILL be) so much nicer when the redneck trash is extinct. Luckily these inbred morons have no money, as well as no education (as shown by their handmade anti-gummint signs along NC 12) so they will be overruled by those who understand that the "way of life" in OBX is tied to the well-being of the environment there. They hate the government (and the fact that, oh lawdy, they's a black man in office) until it is their turn to cash their social security checks -- that, and driving on OUR beach (not THEIR beach) is their entitlement. Find the redneck trash that did this and do the same to them.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments