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Cape Hatteras is for the birds, finally

August 26, 2010
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I haven’t commented on it recently, mostly because I’ve wanted to avoid the screaming hordes that took over my last post on the subject, but we’re coming up on the end of year three of Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s operation under the federal court-ordered consent decree that was instated to force the National Park Service to limit access to some beaches for the protection of nesting sea turtles and shorebirds, particularly the Piping Plover.  One would hope that by this time we’d be able to see some positive impacts on local shorebird populations newly allowed to nest undisturbed by pedestrians, dogs, and off-road vehicles, and you’d be right.

Audubon North Carolina reports that, as of this past week, 147 sea turtle nests were recorded on the National Seashore, up from the previous record of 111 in 2008, and it’s likely to increase as turtle nesting season continues for another couple weeks.  Whether they all hatch is another story, as once hurricane season starts overwash is a real threat, but we can hope that this, at least, is a productive start.  Piping Plovers did well too, with a record 15 chicks fledging, the highest documented since they began keeping records in 1992. This is pretty significant when you consider that, as recently as 2004, there were zero Piping Plover chicks that fledged on the same beaches.  It is clear now, beyond any doubt, that the consent decree was successful in its stated goal to allow the plovers the opportunity to successfully get some chicks out.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an altogether productive summer on the Outer Banks.  one of the more maddening incidents came in late June when an ORV driving after dark, in violation of the stated rules, hit and killed a female Loggerhead Turtle that had come ashore to nest, dragging her several feet and scattering her eggs all over the sand.  Some of the eggs were salvaged and transported to another nest, but the perpetrator was never found.  It goes to show that simply closing the beaches isn’t always enough to insure the safety of the protected species, but the fact that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often when the beach closures consist of little more than a strongly worded sign at the access point is actually kind of amazing.   And it should be noted that many in the surf-fishing community were as outraged as anyone about this particular incident.  In any case, there’s still work left to do.

It’s also well worth noting that despite the sluggish economy with double digit unemployment and the concerted effort by Dare County Commissioner Warren Judge to undermine visitation by bizarrely insisting on telling people all the beaches are closed, visitation is up nearly nearly 1.5% from last year(.pdf) over the first 6 months of the year.  The busiest months are yet to come, and the beaches will once again be open soon, so complaints about the closures specifically affecting businesses seem to be based, once again, on absolutely nothing.

Good news for the Plovers and good news for the island.  One hopes the new management plan that the National Park Service looks to implement permanently in April of 2011 keeps these sorts of good things going.

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10 Comments
  1. August 26, 2010 9:22 am

    Wonderful news.

  2. August 26, 2010 10:19 am

    That’s great news. Hurricane season will pose a challenge to the wildlife on the beach. Hopefully more nests mean that more of the wildlife will survive when the storms do come.

    The killing of the Loggerhead Turtle is a problem. I hope that will lead to better enforcement of the closure. Some beaches in my state put up temporary fencing that allows birds to pass through but provides a more visible barrier for people.

  3. August 27, 2010 1:45 pm

    Awesome news except for the turtle. Well, what do you know, those scientists actually knew what they were talking about when they said that closing off nesting areas of sensitive species would help them. Maybe fishermen should accept that wildlife biologists probably have a better idea of whats going on with wildlife populations because they study them in a scientific manner. BTW- I also love to fish.

  4. Nate permalink*
    August 28, 2010 10:45 am

    @Dan- Indeed!

    @John- You’re definitely right about hurricane season. Some of the beaches are, in fact, blocked with rope and marked with cameras, or at least they have been in the past. But it’s hard to know which access point is going to be the one that requires a closer eye. The frustratin thing about the turtle is that Ocracoke is an island that’s only accessible by ferry. I would have hoped that NPS would have stationed some folks at the ferry terminals to take a look at suspicious looking vehicles, but with nearly every truck there used for beach driving, it would have been nearly impossible to even know what to look for. A frustrating situation all around.

    @Pat- Agreed. There is no shortage of “armchair ecologists” who think they know better than the NPS scientists, who have been second guessed and ostracized from the very beginning. I, personally, have no issue with surf-fisherman who obey the rules and fish in appropriate spots and it should be said that most fisherman are these sorts of people. I enjoy seeing the sort of stuff they’re bringing in just from a naturalist’s interest and the vast majority of interactions I’ve had have been friendly. But there’s always a few bad apples it seems.

  5. wayne permalink
    September 13, 2010 9:31 am

    while a noble action, closing the beaches is killing the obx economy. can we really take away what is not ours? generations of natives are being told that they cant access their own beaches, thus killing the local economy and destroying the community. are we really allowing the audobon radical society to put the best interest of the plovers ahead of the best interest of human beings? I dont know what kind of twisted situation this is turning into, but the lies and cover-ups are getting old. This is getting ridiculous….people are being forced out of their homes. Is this what you really want? Next time think about the consequences before you make an extreme decision.

  6. Nate permalink*
    September 13, 2010 9:38 am

    @wayne- Did you look at the last link? The one that shows gross occupancy is up across the board? It’s as high as it was before the consent decree was enacted. The numbers don’t lie.

    Also, name one person being “forced out of their home”, please.

    Actually forced, as in the National Park Service is forcing them to leave, not that they are choosing to leave of their own volition.

    One person. Go.

  7. Todd permalink
    November 22, 2010 10:29 am

    pardon my french but this whole action of the Consent Decree is a bunch of dookie. Give us our beaches back!

  8. Nate permalink*
    November 22, 2010 10:49 am

    @Todd- You have “your” beaches. There is access to shore for vehicles year-round. It may not be precisely what you want, but the concept of compromise has always been a difficult one for ORV advocates to grasp.

  9. Vicki Thomas permalink
    December 6, 2010 5:37 am

    View the video “Piping Mad” by The Greystone Project before you applaud your success. Real people are suffering because of an imagined need to protect a little bird. I’m all for protection of endangered species, but this whole thing is based on bad science.
    Also check out Environmental Lawsuits Rake in Billions for Lawyers | NowPublic News Coverage
    http://www.nowpublic.com

  10. Nate permalink*
    December 6, 2010 6:34 am

    @Vicki- Do your friends at The Greystone Project take into account the nationwide economic freefall from late 2008 on? Because if not, their little documentary project isn’t worth a cent.

    Businesses are suffering, sure, but they’re suffering everywhere. Businesses on the Outer Banks are suffering less than businesses elsewhere in the nation. This is unequivocal. So don’t you think this downturn it has more to do with massive unemployment and a sluggish economy rather than the temporary closing of 1/3 of the beaches? Let’s put all this in context before we start wildly flailing and passing blame, shall we?

    Also, if you’re arguing that lawyers make lots of money when they do work, then knock me over with a feather.

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