There was news the other day that the top guns at Cape Lookout National Seashore have decided to let personal watercraft cruise through the seashore's waters.
I say "cruise," and not "play," because the official word is that those who drive Jet Skis, Waverunners and the like will only be able to "access" the seashore in ten specific locations on the sound-side of the seashore and not actually "recreate" with the water toys in the seashore's waters.
"We're using the word 'access' versus 'unlimited use,'" Wouter Ketel, the seashore's chief ranger, told the Daily News of Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Access only, folks, no playing here. It should be interesting to see how the park's staff manages to uphold that plan, don't you think?
I mean, the seashore contains 56 miles of undeveloped beach, including four barrier islands. How the heck is the seashore's staff going to patrol that stretch of waterfront to ensure that the PWCs are only accessing the seashore at designated locations and not frolicking in the waves?
Up at Yellowstone, officials supposedly closely monitor snowmobile use, yet illegal behavior has continued. Think it'll be different at Cape Lookout?
What's disturbing about this announcement is that Cape Lookout officials know the impacts of personal watercraft on their seashore. Back in February when they published an announcement about the planned rule to let PWCs return to the seashore, they pointed out that:
"Some research suggests that PWC use affects wildlife by causing interruption of normal activities, alarm or flight, avoidance of degradation of habitat, and effects on reproduction success," reads the Federal Register notice. "This is thought to be a result of a combination of PWC speed, noise and ability to access sensitive areas, especially in shallow-water depths."
A bit further the report notes that "...experts from around the country have voiced concern that PWC activity can have negative impacts on marine mammals, disturbing normal rest, feeding, social interactions and causing flight."
"Toothed whales (included dolphins) produce sounds across a broad range of communication as well as echolocation, a process of creating an acoustic picture of their surroundings for the purpose of hunting and navigation," the narrative continues.
"Watercraft engine noise can mask sounds that these animals might otherwise hear and use for critical life functions and can cause temporary hearing threshold shifts. Bottlenose dolphins exposed to less than an hour of continuous noise at 96 dB experienced a hearing threshold shift of 12 to 18 dBs, which lasted hours after the noise terminated. A hearing threshold shift of this degree would substantially reduce a dolphin's echolocation and communication abilities."
Cape Lookout officials initially opposed PWCs but, as I noted in a post back in February, former Interior Secretary Norton, ah, convinced the seashore's superintendent that he needed to take a closer look at the issue.
And what's also interesting about Cape Lookout's turnabout is that the seashore's previous PWC visitation amounted to less than 1 percent of the seashore's overall annual visitation, AND, visitation at the seashore went up 16 percent when the watercraft were initially banned back in 2002.
Has Cape Lookout been tossed in the form of a bone by the Park Service to the motorized recreation industry? Seems like it, don't you think?