Cape Hatteras is for the birds, finally
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.