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Loggerhead Sea Turtle Crushed By Vehicle At Cape Hatteras National Seashore


A loggerhead sea turtle that came ashore at Cape Hatteras National Seashore to lay its eggs was killed when a vehicle drove over it. NPS photos.

A loggerhead sea turtle coming ashore to lay its eggs was crushed by a vehicle at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, an incident likely to ratchet up the contentious debate over how much access off-road vehicles should have at the seashore.

The incident comes as seashore officials are pulling together a final Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed management plan for ORVs driving on the seashore's beaches. Seashore officials discovered the dead turtle Thursday morning about 50 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.

"We don’t know if it happened late the night of the 23rd or early morning of the 24th," Thayer Broili, the seashore's resource management chief, said Friday morning. "It happened on Ocracoke Island, towards the southern end of the Ocracoke Island, between two of the ramps, 70 and 72. We’ve reported it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and our rangers are doing an investigation."

Loggerhead turtles are a threatened species throughout their range under the Endangered Species Act. Adults can have a shell ranging up to 3 feet in length, and can top out at 250 pounds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Females don't reach sexual maturity until they're 35 years old, according to the agency.

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 Chief Broili.

"In all likelihood it was an off-road vehicle to even be there," the chief said. "And they drug it about 12 feet. It appears that they stopped. They realized that they run over something and got out and looked and ran back over it. The turtle was a pregnant female that came ashore to lay its eggs and apparently it was migrating up or down the beach. We did recover some eggs the next morning, which we have transplanted to a nest, we don’t know if they’ll survive or not.”

While three species of sea turtles -- threatened green sea turtles, endangered leatherback sea turtles, and threatened loggerhead turtles -- come ashore to nest at Cape Hatteras, to date it has been a tiny bird -- the piping plover -- that seemingly casts the greatest shadow over the seashore’s management. These grayish-white birds with a black neck band, yellow legs, and a distinctive chirp are somewhat curious in their preference for nesting habitat, as they make small bowl-like depressions in the sand to lay eggs that blend in so well they can easily be overlooked and, unfortunately, easily crushed by feet and tires and available to predators.

Unfortunately, for Cape Hatteras beach-goers, these birds nest from late spring through July, and restrictions imposed to protect the birds block some stretches of seashore from those who prefer to drive their vehicles on the beach.

Now, though, the attention has been shifted dramatically to the plight of sea turtles that come ashore to nest. The seashore's sea turtle population has been doing relatively well in recent years. Last year the 104 verified nests were far above the 43 counted just five years ago. Those 2009 nests also produced roughly 5,000 turtle hatchlings, according to the seashore's annual sea turtle report.

Despite the relative boom in turtle nesting in 2009, there was no direct connection last year between ORVs and a sea turtle's death on Cape Hatteras, although there were some minor infractions, according to the seashore's annual report.

ORV violations of turtle closures were relatively rare. There were several accounts of vehicles driving below (i.e. ocean-side of) the expanded turtle closures in the morning before any washed out signs in the intertidal zone could be replaced. It is unknown how many hatchlings, if any, were affected by these actions, either by being run over or by being stuck in tire tracks. There were no observed losses to this type of violation, although it is known that hatchlings were emerging from NO30 (a green nest) during the same night that some of these violations took place (see above)

That said, there were at least two notable exceptions to that observation:

NBH10: On the morning of July 26th, staff on turtle patrol for the Bodie Hatteras District noticed that a nest closure was “missing” in the tri-village area. After going back through the area, she found that someone had removed the four signs, string, flagging, and PVC poles that were surrounding the nest site. Two of the signs were later found 0.2 miles down the beach. One sign was found behind the primary dune line with the PVC poles and the fourth sign was never recovered. Many sets of pedestrian footprints were found over the nest site. The eggs were checked and the closure re-installed at the expanded size. As the nest had a good success, it is unlikely that this incident resulted in any harm to the nest itself.

NH33: On the morning of September 2, staff on the turtle patrol for the Hatteras South run noticed that string was down at the NH33 nest site, which was an expanded closure just north of Ramp 49. It was found that a vehicle had driven though the sting at one end of the closure, run through the filter fencing, and then exited the closure by driving through the string at the other end. It is unknown whether the vehicle was also in violation of the CD nighttime driving restriction. The filter fencing was repaired and the closure expanded. There was no observed damage to the actual nest.

Chief Broili said this week's incident is the first anyone can recall in which a vehicle killed a sea turtle. The seashore's chief ranger on Ocracoke Island has been with the Park Service for 33 years, and grew up on the island, "and he said this is the first time that he’s aware of this ever happening," said the chief.

The section of beach where the turtle was killed is closed to vehicles overnight beginning at 10 p.m. under the seashore's temporary ORV regulations.

"We have night-driving regulations and everybody is supposed to be off the beach by 10 o’clock," said Chief Broili. "We think this happened after that, but we have no way to prove it.”

The incident comes just as turtle nesting on the national seashore is ramping up, according to the chief. So far 37 or 38 nests have been counted, he said.

"Overall, the past couple years have been very good for our turtles. We still don’t know what the overall season will be," said Chief Broili, "but this one poor individual got caught in a bad situation.”

Park Service rangers are being aided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents in investigating the matter.

“Who knows what this guy was doing," said Chief Broili. "It would seem that anybody who was driving down the beach at night with their lights on would see it. Who knows? This person could have been under the influence, young kids, relatively young people who were just ripping around not paying attention to what they were doing. Who knows? It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they did this intentionally.

"Who knows what the motives of people are?" he added. "They definitely knew that something had happened."


Look I am one of the biggest sea turtle fanatics you will ever meet, but i don't agree with banning the driving on the beaches of Ocracoke my family has been traveling to Ocracoke for more than fourty years and we always come to fish. Only one year did we ever go without a four wheel drive and let me just tell you what a pain in the butt it is to carry beach chairs, towels, bait, poles, and other neccesary items needed for fishing. i honestly believe that whoever ran over this turtle wasn't paying attention and when they saw that they had run over a sea turtle knowing it is illegal they paniced and fled the area before anyone saw what had happened. changing that we are allowed to drive on the beach won't help anything it obviously isn't a big problem seeing as this is the only sea turtle to have known to be killed by off road driving on Ocracoke, more turtles have been killed by people stepping on nests than being run over so we need to educate people on what a sea turtle nest looks like not make a total inconvenience to people who do pay attention and use the privilage to drive on the beach for what its ment for.


George W. Bush made the laws that removed many protections from the animals that americans care about, he also approved legislation for oil-drilling in the gulf despite americans saying no! and you're actually blaming Obama? get you're facts straight first, anyway I'll agree that the oil spill was poorly handled, but obama didn't okay the drilling or removal of the endangered species protections from wolves and other animals

It's a no-brainer - Hatteras is in a state with "Carolina" in its name. Anyone out there late, after beach closed to vehicles, would NOT have headlights on. Bet locals know who did this. AWFUL!

Everyone assumes that an ORV driving at night on the beach would have its headlights on. Since there is a ban on night driving from 10pm-6am you would be advertising your presence. This vehicle was most likely trying to sneak along without headlights, only moonlight when it struck the turtle. This is another unintended consequence of the misguided efforts of the environmental lobby. You assume drunk driver or reckless kids but it may have well been someone just trying to do a little surf fishing at night. What are the chances of someone striking a turtle with their headlights on? My conclusion is this is a direct result of the consent decree designed to ostensibly protect these turtles.

There has also been loss of human life. When a boat with 5 people aboard was fishing too close to the breakers at Hatteras Inlet capsized that part of the beach was closed because of nesting shorebirds, even though there were no protected species there nor have there been in years. It just looks like it might make good nesting territory. This is a popular fishing spot and someone would surely have seen the boat overturned as it was close to shore. No one noticed until an incoming boat spotted the vessell 2 hours later. Four people were rescued but 1 person died from exposure.

Just one other thing to chew on. Right whales are endangered and the most common type of human caused fatalities is a ship strike. Why not close all east coast ports during the right whale migrations? This is basiclly the situation at Cape Hatteras National Recreation Area.

Just had to toss this in. We just spotted all 4 ot the baby rabbits (searching with the grandkids). So all is well for another day. Silly I know. But, that's the way some of us rednecks are. Grew up hunting, a stint in the corp and look at me now. I almost feel like I should join AS and DoW. Nah, can't cause I still fish and want to use the truck to get to our favorite spots. And on top of that, I've found most all those other rednecks at the OBX to be the best friends you could ask for and believe it or not they are pretty dang smart too.

OK, I'll shut up and go away.

OK Crot, good for you.

BTW Access folks have put up a reward.

Interesting that only further restriction has come out of AS, DOW, SELC so far.

I'm now out of here on this one as I think it has been beat enough and more time spent is a waste of either viewpoint's take on the issue.

Salvo Jimmy,
I've spent three nights (from at least 9-2 or 3) at 43 this year. Only had one vehicle come over the ramp and shine their lights on the surf, and then back up.
And no, I don't belong to or participate in NCBBA, OBPA, NCAudubon, DOW or any other groups activity that's helped to create this mess. I pick up for about 50 yards around my truck every time I go fishing. That's my part.
State listed species deserve to be able to reproduce without disturbance just as federally-listed species do. Why decimate the population until it has to be federally listed? That's short sighted.
Plus, the NPS is mandated to protect them, whether they're listed, or not.

Giving it due thought (and calming down) You are right, of course. We'll see.
As a subnote to explain my exasperation, My wife and I have 4 remaining turtle nests from original 6 laid in the back yard in Va. Bch. Crows got 2 during laying. We are trying to protect the others til hatch. Have 2 baby rabbits from original 4 that we are trying to convince to stay in the flower beds during the day for a while longer. Fear the crows got 2 of them already, maybe not. As to the beach, I guess we're rednecks. Yes, we took it personal, just like it was intended.

You're a good guy, Stay with it.

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