Records Set at Cape Hatteras for Tourism and Sea Turtles

Sidebar Incite Piping Plover 1
Photograph by David Speiser

Piping plover

Published: Sep 4, 2012
Chapel Hill, NC - 
With the breeding season still underway, the first year under a long-awaited rule to manage beach driving at Cape Hatteras National Seashore is already record-breaking for local tourism and the rare sea turtles that nest on the seashore's beaches, according to official records. The off-road vehicle management rule is the final step in a process agreed to by all parties--including Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance and local counties--concerned about beach driving on the national seashore.

"Record tourism and sea turtle numbers show how the new rule balances uses and allows both visitors and wildlife to enjoy the seashore," said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

According to preliminary nesting numbers from the National Park Service as of August 29, 222 sea turtle nests have been recorded to date, by far the most nests ever documented at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  This number may increase as the 2012 turtle nesting season will continue for several more weeks. 

"This news is a win-win," said Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. "It shows that North Carolina's tourism industry can thrive even as the region protects its natural heritage and the rare species that call the National Seashore home."

At the same time, visitor gross occupancy of Dare County during the bird and turtle nesting season months of April, May and June 2012 was the highest on record, according to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.  Hatteras Island specifically also enjoyed record-setting occupancy in April and June. July and August numbers are not yet published.

"We applaud the National Park Service for balancing the needs of birds and sea turtles with the recreational enjoyment of the beach by people," said Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina.

Eleven rare piping plover chicks also survived to fledge (meaning that they have learned to fly) from nests laid on the seashore's beaches.  Before off-road vehicle management practices were implemented in April 2008, piping plover numbers within Cape Hatteras National Seashore declined to an all time low of no chicks surviving to fledge in 2002 and 2004. 

In addition, this year's "false crawl ratio"- a measure of sea turtle nesting success that compares the number of turtles that abandon a nesting attempt to the number that come ashore and successfully lay eggs--exceeded the Fish & Wildlife Service's goal for that ratio to be less than or equal to 1:1 at Cape Hatteras.  This year's ratio of 166 false crawls to 222 successful attempts (or 0.75:1) indicates that nesting turtles are being disturbed and deterred from nesting in far fewer numbers than in many earlier years.

According to the National Park Service, it sold a total of 23,070 ORV permits (7,220 annual and 15,850 weekly permits) as of August 26. The new plan proposes new parking facilities, access ramps, and water shuttles to increase visitor access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches.

The National Park Service today reported that 59 miles of the seashore's 65 miles of ocean and inlet shoreline were open to pedestrians. The National Park Service rule designates 42 percent of the seashore's miles of beaches as year-round ORV routes with only 39 percent designated as year-round vehicle-free areas for pedestrians, families, and wildlife. The remaining 19 percent of the seashore's beaches are seasonally open to ORVs, but reserved for pedestrians during the peak tourism seasons.  Some areas may be temporarily closed during nesting season to allow birds and sea turtles to nest and raise their young.

As a unit of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been required under federal law since 1972, when President Nixon issued an executive order to establish guidelines that to manage off-road vehicles in such a way to minimize harm to the wildlife and other natural resources of the seashore in accordance with the best available science, to minimize conflicts with other, non-vehicle-based uses of the seashore, and to preserve the seashore for present and future generations.

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Note to Editors:

Contacts:

Kathleen Sullivan, SELC, 919-967-1450

Ida Phillips, Audubon North Carolina, 919-929-3899

Jason Rylander, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-682-9400

The Gross Occupancy Summary from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau can be found at http://www.outerbanks.org/outerbanks-statistics/

About National Audubon Society

The National Audubon Society has more than one million members and supporters, offices in 23 states, and a presence in all 50 states through more than 450 certified chapters, nature centers, sanctuaries, and education and science programs.  Locally, Audubon maintains a North Carolina state office which works on behalf of Audubon's more than 14,000 members and supporters in ten chapters across state.  Audubon's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.  It carries out that mission nationally through a variety of activities including education, habitat conservation and public policy advocacy. www.ncaudubon.org

About Defenders of Wildlife

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

About Southern Environmental Law Center

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 50 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

WEB: www.SouthernEnvironment.org

TWITTER: http://www.twitter.com/selc_org

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