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All Was Not Lost When Loggerhead Turtle Determined to Nest at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Was Run Over


While this loggerhead sea turtle lay dead on the beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore for an undetermined amount of time back in June, quick-acting biologists who transferred some of her eggs to a nest were rewarded when six successfully hatched. NPS photo.

Photographs of a female loggerhead turtle that was run over on Cape Hatteras National Seashore back in June told a pretty grim story. Amazingly, though, after seashore biologists placed 92 of her eggs in a nest cavity, six continued their incubation and hatched.

This year's nesting season has seen a record number of sea turtle nests at the seashore -- 153 -- but the fact that the six hatchlings somehow survived their mother's death would seem to be an even bigger story line.

"She had four clutches inside of her when she was run over," seashore wildlife biologist Britta Muiznieks said Tuesday, explaining that sea turtles can carry a number of different aged clutches at one time. "We created a nest cavity for the clutch we believe she would have laid had she not been run over and placed 92 eggs of her eggs into a nest cavity.

"The first emergence of hatchlings from this nest was documented on August 30 and when the nest was excavated we were able to document that the nest had produced six live hatchlings," said Ms. Muiznieks. "The rest of the eggs were either undeveloped (82) or only showed early stages of development (4). During the necropsy it was found that she had three additional clutches inside of her that were in various stages of development. These would most likely have been laid later this breeding season."

The crushed turtle's body was found early on June 24, leading Park Service officials to estimate that it was run over sometime between 10 p.m. June 23 and 6 a.m. June 24. 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 seashore officials.

While an off-road-vehicle group offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for running over and killing the turtle, as of Tuesday no arrests had been made, according to Ms. Muiznieks.


While the outcome of this story was ultimately positive, it is clearly intended to position ORV drivers at Hatteras as negligent and careless. Nothing is farther from the truth, hence the reward they offered. I personally witnessed a ranger driving "donuts" within a bird enclosure this spring to taunt fisherman who were on the other side of the barrier. Who is negligent? We have pictures of the tire tracks. Moreover, while the outcome represented in this article is positive, why aren't you discussing the abnormally high mortality rate at Hatteras National Seashore, over 35%, while other parks average about 20 points less? This because the NPS at Hatteras won't relocate nests which are in danger of overwash, so they drown. Other parks move the nests out of harms way. So while NPS saved 6 here, they've lost hundreds, probably thousands because of inept or antiquated policies that even other parks have abandoned.

The outcome of the story was not in any way positive. A mature female turtle, one of a species threatened with extinction, that was prepared to nest multiple times this year and for many years into the future was destroyed. The survival of a handful of nestlings, fewer than 1% likely to survive is not ultimately positive.

Motor vehicles, including ORVs, simply do not belong on beaches of Hatteras or any other public beach, especially during turtle nesting season. The pre-emptive Attack/defense effort complaining about National Park Service personnel is cute but doesn't really work. If NPS staff violate the laws or regulations, report them but don't pretend that, even if they were acting inappropriately, their conduct justifies the carnage brought by the ORV driver.

One way to reduce the mortality rate of sea turtles at Hatteras is to remove the motor vehicles from the beaches. I'm interested in the "antiquated policies" at Hatteras and will look into that as well.

Mr. Johnson,

While I can appreciate your stance on ORV use, I have to strongly disagree with your Idea that this article is positioned to vilify ORV users. The story is simply stating what happened and trying to put a positive spin on an otherwise careless and irresponsible act. Lets remember, that the turtle got run over because someone was on the beach driving when they should not have been, law broken, end of story. Yes, one irresponsible person does not mean all ORV users should be lumped together, however, what gets lost in stories like this is the law was broken and trying to deflect the meaning of the story to another (rangers doing donuts) does not do anyone any good.

What I believe Mr Johnson is saying and I personally agree with is that you cannot be sure it was not a Ranger or Turtle patrol vehicle that did this with the irresponsible and inconsistant way the NPS handles themselves. In the ten days I was in Hatteras I personally witnessed several NPS vehicles travelling at high rates of speed down the beach (putting the public at risk) to catch a minor violation and even say a pair of NPS vehicles at the point talking to fisherman with several dogs without leashes nearby. I would caution any and all accusations on this incident unless you were there.

Mr. Stubbs,

Your account of rangers trying to enforce the law, hence doing their job, once again, is not related to the story at hand. Could a ranger have been out on the beach at 2am in the morning and then commence to run over an animal they are charged to protect, maybe, but I think that is very unlikely. The fact remains that there is an issue of ORV use during times when the beach is closed to use, lets remain focused on the story.

and an expert speaks...

Please predict the future for me as well. I know for a fact that the NPS and the Turtle Patrol are out on the beaches between the times listed, because it is their job to do so. Do I think it unlikely that the did this? I unlike many will not pass judgement or praise for anyone in this particular intance as I was not there. Where were you at 2am on this evening? It is interesting that you know the time of the offense!

A ranger inforcing the law (no ticket given as witnessed by me) at the expense of the public (my young kids on the beach) they are there to protect is laughable.

I was simply bringing to light that no one is above this tragedy and the fact that people keep pointing at ORV users is typical of those who have not witnessed it first hand. I think any and all negative comments towards any particular group is not a positive way of remembering that a turtle was killed needlessly.

Thank you for acknowledging my expert status.

I was trying to express that the folks that are responsible for protecting these animals are the least likely to have caused the death of the turtle. Is it possible a ranger or a turtle tech did this, yes, is it likely, no. I guess I have a little to much faith in our public servants to think they would run a turtle over and not report it, knowing that it would be blamed on the ORV users.

The issue is about driving on the beach, at night, during certain periods of the year. The death of the turtle highlights the problem, regardless of who is to blame.

I agree that negative comments will not accomplish anything and a dialog is required to ensure that something like this does not occur again. However, until the us against them mentality goes away, this will never happen. People have a right to use their public lands, absolutely, but in a responsible way. And if the the park managers feel that closing a beach at night during the summer will protect the resource, then they have the ability to do that. No decision that has an effect on public land is made without a tremendous amount of public involvement and planning. Managers have to make tough decisions, not an easy job.

as a previous nps turtle patrol employee at this park, resource management staff are not out on the beach after dusk or before sunrise. You can't see the turtles you are supposed to patrol in the dark. If out after dark it is usually to facilitate outside research.

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