An off-road-vehicle group is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for running over and killing a loggerhead sea turtle attempting to nest at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Loggerhead turtles are a threatened species throughout their range under the Endangered Species Act, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is debating whether to upgraded that listing to "endangered."
The crushed turtle's body was found early on June 24, leading Park Service officials to estimate that it was run over sometime between 10 p.m. June 23 and 6 a.m. June 24. Photos of the dead turtle clearly show that the vehicle rode right over it and then apparently became high-centered, as the driver backed up in an effort to free his rig, according to seashore officials.
"NCBBA (North Carolina Beach Buggy Association) is outraged by this deliberate act and urges NPS law enforcement rangers to use all available resources to find apprehend and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the person or persons responsible," the group said in a statement posted on its website.
Meanwhile, the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Southern Environmental Law Center called on the National Park Service to "immediately install barriers on all ramps to seashore beaches from sunset until the beach is cleared by the turtle patrol that enforces beach driving restrictions to protect nesting sea turtles. The current practice of posting signs regarding the nighttime beach driving restrictions during turtle nesting season did not deter the off road vehicle drivers and did not protect the turtle."
“This tragic incident demonstrates conclusively that there can be no unauthorized vehicles on Seashore beaches at night during turtle nesting season--period,” said Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the conservation organizations that sued the Park Service to force it to develop an ORV management plan for the seashore.
"The death of this rare turtle could have and should have been prevented," added Jason Rylander, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. "Better management of beach driving is essential to ensure such a loss does not happen again."
NCBBA officials, though, said barriers would not be a sound solution.
"Instead of offering a reward of their own or condemning this deliberate act of vandalism, they use this terrible tragedy as another step to further their agenda of turning Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area into a gated community to which we the taxpaying public have no access. Common sense, not irrational reactions, should prevail," said the group's statement, signed by its president, David Joyner.
"Installing barriers will not stop those that intend to break the law and would only cause lawbreakers to drive around the barrier doing more damage to the dunes. Locks only keep honest folks honest; those that plan to break the law will do so!"
On their website, seashore officials asked that anyone with any information about the matter call the Dare (North Carolina) Community Crime Line at 252-473-3111.