Yet another act of vandalism has struck nesting grounds at Cape Hatteras National Seashore -- this time involving a turtle nest -- and in turn seashore officials expanded the off-limits boundary area around the site.
The latest incident, discovered this past Thursday morning, occurred about two-tenths of a mile northeast of Ramp 49 in a section of beach that normally is open to off-road vehicles. However, one ORV enthusiast took exception to the mesh fencing used by seashore crews to mark as out-of-bounds a section of beach containing a sea turtle nest. Fortunately, the driver failed to run over the nest. The park's release did not specify which species of turtle laid the nest. Cape Hatteras offers nesting grounds for three species of sea turtle: the loggerhead, green, and leatherback.
One set of vehicle tire tracks drove through the perimeter fencing on one side of the closure, continued through the black filter fencing at the nest site, and then ran through more perimeter fencing as the vehicle exited the other side of the closure. The tracks missed the nest, which did not appear to be damaged. The incident is being investigated by NPS law enforcement personnel and has been evaluated by park management.
Now, a court-ordered consent decree approved last year over the thorny issue of when and where ORVs are allowed on the national seashore's beaches "mandates that if a confirmed deliberate act that disturbs or harasses wildlife or vandalizes fencing, nests, or plants occurs, NPS shall automatically expand the buffers. As a result of the violation, the buffer will be expanded 50 meters. Under consent decree modifications approved in June 2009, NPS is not required to expand the buffer if information from the public or developed by NPS leads to the apprehension of a violator. If a buffer has been expanded because of vandalism, as is the case here, and subsequent information leads to violator apprehension, NPS may retract the expansion."
NPS law enforcement personnel continue to investigate the incident. If anyone has information about any of these violations, you can call Dare Community Crime Line at 252-473-3111. Destruction of government property and entering a resource closure are federal criminal violations, each subject up to a $5,000.00 fine and up to six months imprisonment.
This was at least the second act of vandalism this summer involving a sea turtle nest on Cape Hatteras. Back in July someone removed fencing that had been placed around another nesting site.