All Was Not Lost When Loggerhead Turtle Determined to Nest at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Was Run Over

While this loggerhead sea turtle lay dead on the beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore for an undetermined amount of time back in June, quick-acting biologists who transferred some of her eggs to a nest were rewarded when six successfully hatched. NPS photo.

Photographs of a female loggerhead turtle that was run over on Cape Hatteras National Seashore back in June told a pretty grim story. Amazingly, though, after seashore biologists placed 92 of her eggs in a nest cavity, six continued their incubation and hatched.

This year's nesting season has seen a record number of sea turtle nests at the seashore -- 153 -- but the fact that the six hatchlings somehow survived their mother's death would seem to be an even bigger story line.

"She had four clutches inside of her when she was run over," seashore wildlife biologist Britta Muiznieks said Tuesday, explaining that sea turtles can carry a number of different aged clutches at one time. "We created a nest cavity for the clutch we believe she would have laid had she not been run over and placed 92 eggs of her eggs into a nest cavity.

"The first emergence of hatchlings from this nest was documented on August 30 and when the nest was excavated we were able to document that the nest had produced six live hatchlings," said Ms. Muiznieks. "The rest of the eggs were either undeveloped (82) or only showed early stages of development (4). During the necropsy it was found that she had three additional clutches inside of her that were in various stages of development. These would most likely have been laid later this breeding season."

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.

While an off-road-vehicle group offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for running over and killing the turtle, as of Tuesday no arrests had been made, according to Ms. Muiznieks.

Comments

While the outcome of this story was ultimately positive, it is clearly intended to position ORV drivers at Hatteras as negligent and careless. Nothing is farther from the truth, hence the reward they offered. I personally witnessed a ranger driving "donuts" within a bird enclosure this spring to taunt fisherman who were on the other side of the barrier. Who is negligent? We have pictures of the tire tracks. Moreover, while the outcome represented in this article is positive, why aren't you discussing the abnormally high mortality rate at Hatteras National Seashore, over 35%, while other parks average about 20 points less? This because the NPS at Hatteras won't relocate nests which are in danger of overwash, so they drown. Other parks move the nests out of harms way. So while NPS saved 6 here, they've lost hundreds, probably thousands because of inept or antiquated policies that even other parks have abandoned.

The outcome of the story was not in any way positive. A mature female turtle, one of a species threatened with extinction, that was prepared to nest multiple times this year and for many years into the future was destroyed. The survival of a handful of nestlings, fewer than 1% likely to survive is not ultimately positive.

Motor vehicles, including ORVs, simply do not belong on beaches of Hatteras or any other public beach, especially during turtle nesting season. The pre-emptive Attack/defense effort complaining about National Park Service personnel is cute but doesn't really work. If NPS staff violate the laws or regulations, report them but don't pretend that, even if they were acting inappropriately, their conduct justifies the carnage brought by the ORV driver.

One way to reduce the mortality rate of sea turtles at Hatteras is to remove the motor vehicles from the beaches. I'm interested in the "antiquated policies" at Hatteras and will look into that as well.

Mr. Johnson,

While I can appreciate your stance on ORV use, I have to strongly disagree with your Idea that this article is positioned to vilify ORV users. The story is simply stating what happened and trying to put a positive spin on an otherwise careless and irresponsible act. Lets remember, that the turtle got run over because someone was on the beach driving when they should not have been, law broken, end of story. Yes, one irresponsible person does not mean all ORV users should be lumped together, however, what gets lost in stories like this is the law was broken and trying to deflect the meaning of the story to another (rangers doing donuts) does not do anyone any good.

What I believe Mr Johnson is saying and I personally agree with is that you cannot be sure it was not a Ranger or Turtle patrol vehicle that did this with the irresponsible and inconsistant way the NPS handles themselves. In the ten days I was in Hatteras I personally witnessed several NPS vehicles travelling at high rates of speed down the beach (putting the public at risk) to catch a minor violation and even say a pair of NPS vehicles at the point talking to fisherman with several dogs without leashes nearby. I would caution any and all accusations on this incident unless you were there.

Mr. Stubbs,

Your account of rangers trying to enforce the law, hence doing their job, once again, is not related to the story at hand. Could a ranger have been out on the beach at 2am in the morning and then commence to run over an animal they are charged to protect, maybe, but I think that is very unlikely. The fact remains that there is an issue of ORV use during times when the beach is closed to use, lets remain focused on the story.

and an expert speaks...

Please predict the future for me as well. I know for a fact that the NPS and the Turtle Patrol are out on the beaches between the times listed, because it is their job to do so. Do I think it unlikely that the did this? I unlike many will not pass judgement or praise for anyone in this particular intance as I was not there. Where were you at 2am on this evening? It is interesting that you know the time of the offense!

A ranger inforcing the law (no ticket given as witnessed by me) at the expense of the public (my young kids on the beach) they are there to protect is laughable.

I was simply bringing to light that no one is above this tragedy and the fact that people keep pointing at ORV users is typical of those who have not witnessed it first hand. I think any and all negative comments towards any particular group is not a positive way of remembering that a turtle was killed needlessly.

Thank you for acknowledging my expert status.

I was trying to express that the folks that are responsible for protecting these animals are the least likely to have caused the death of the turtle. Is it possible a ranger or a turtle tech did this, yes, is it likely, no. I guess I have a little to much faith in our public servants to think they would run a turtle over and not report it, knowing that it would be blamed on the ORV users.

The issue is about driving on the beach, at night, during certain periods of the year. The death of the turtle highlights the problem, regardless of who is to blame.

I agree that negative comments will not accomplish anything and a dialog is required to ensure that something like this does not occur again. However, until the us against them mentality goes away, this will never happen. People have a right to use their public lands, absolutely, but in a responsible way. And if the the park managers feel that closing a beach at night during the summer will protect the resource, then they have the ability to do that. No decision that has an effect on public land is made without a tremendous amount of public involvement and planning. Managers have to make tough decisions, not an easy job.

as a previous nps turtle patrol employee at this park, resource management staff are not out on the beach after dusk or before sunrise. You can't see the turtles you are supposed to patrol in the dark. If out after dark it is usually to facilitate outside research.

After the actions I have seen by these Rangers at this particular park and after the incident (denied by the NPS) of the ranger doing donuts in an enclosure I will only say they are human and humans do stupid things no matter what they do for a living. As far as faith in our public servants I do hold them to a higher regard for what they do, but I also understand that these people are way undermanned for what the Consent decree has forced upon them. this will only get worse when the final plan comes into play. There was not one version on the few possible alternatives that would not stretch these people further with little hope of adding funding for the same. In fact i will only say with the drain on resources and the strain on the island businesses will reduce funding even more.

I am less affected by the night driving as I have two small kids and do not get out there at night as I used to. This eliminates me from both the pros and cons on the affects. I did occasionally enjoy bonfires on the beach, but I can do those just at or after dusk. Fisherman are the only legit reason I can see people wanting to be out there in a vehicle.

99% of all people who use there vehicles to access the beach do so to get to where the recreation is and they do not use it to actually recreate. that is a fact.

Anon, you say this but the park service is asking for volunteers to assit in turtle watches and the turtle patrol is on the beaches at that time estimated

If you have not been to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you would be amazed at the controversy and diverse management difficulties that encompass this NP. For instance National Park LEO patrolling the ocean beach at CHNS [NPS four-code CAHA] routinely responds to calls of visitors caught in rip tides.

One of the biggest obstacles for managing this park is the tight leadership of the ORV/fishing community. They have 3 highly organized local associations. I would suspect their members are responsible for most of the negative comments on this site concerning CHNS. One of the tactics for getting their members fired up is to blame the local NP staff and mangers for mismanagement of the Park in any situation that they can connect to that restricts ORV use.

While many visitors to CHNS see the need of having an ORV to get considerable amounts of recreational gear out to the National Park beach no one knows what percent of visitors don’t also see driving an ORV as a big part of their recreation. Driving on the ocean beach is fun. Many visitors take a drive to the beach and never get out of their vehicle.

Kurt,

Great article a usual! Thanks for pointing out one of the very few positives that have come out of this tragic event. It's somehow comforting to know that some her offspring successfully hatched.

Dave,

"One way to reduce the mortality rate of sea turtles at Hatteras is to remove the motor vehicles from the beaches. I'm interested in the "antiquated policies" at Hatteras and will look into that as well."

Sure that's one way, but not the only way. Punishing all user groups for the misdeeds of a few seems excessive, IMO. May I also remind you that this is the first and only turtle ever killed by an ORV in the entire history of CHNSRA. While not diminishing the loss of this female adult in any way, turtles are killed or injured in larger numbers by boat strikes in all waters that they inhabit. In a conversation I had earlier this summer with the Lead Turtle Volunteer on Isle of Palms, SC, (Near Charleston, SC),and she relayed this:

"6/29/10: We had a dead turtle in front of Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan's Island this morning. But it was a juvenile loggerhead and had been hit by a boat. This is usually what happens. This was our 10th turtle stranding (8 dead and 2 live) for this season and we have an unusually high number because of our proximity to the harbor with so much boating. "

Would you use your same line of thinking for ORV's and call for the removal of all boats from our navigable waters where turtles may be? I should hope not.

In reality, more turtle hatchlings are lost in CHNSRA due to the NPS/USFWS reluctance to move nests in areas that are known to have high inundation risks. The below pictures were taken on 8/15/2010, during a run-of-the-mill High Surf event on South Beach between Buxton and Frisco:

Totally preventable loss, but in these cases, the NPS insists that Nature run its course. I don't know what has become of the nests post-Earl, but expect the results were much more severe than what is pictured here.

SS1,

"One of the biggest obstacles for managing this park is the tight leadership of the ORV/fishing community. They have 3 highly organized local associations. I would suspect their members are responsible for most of the negative comments on this site concerning CHNS. One of the tactics for getting their members fired up is to blame the local NP staff and mangers for mismanagement of the Park in any situation that they can connect to that restricts ORV use."

You're about 1/8 right, but only in the context of the "Blame Game" that goes on down here. 3 "Highly Organized" local associations? Puh-lease. I suspect you mean OBPA, NCBBA and CHAPA, which are very much locally-based and miniscule in both membership and monetary might when compared to those juggernauts who oppose us, namely Defenders of Wildlife, (DOW), NC Audobon Society, and the Southern Environmental Law Center, (SELC). Not to mention that we're also up against a myriad of Federal and State agencies. How can such small grassroots organizations pose such a large obstacle, when we have been the ones to toe the NPS line throughout the entire process, from Negotiated Rulemaking to the DEIS comment period? You're descending into hyperbole WRT those statements, Sir.

It would seem to me that you are engaging in" negative comments" yourself by bashing these groups that you apparently know very little about. Also, it depends on one's perspective as to which comments are deemed as "Negative", no?

"Driving on the ocean beach is fun. Many visitors take a drive to the beach and never get out of their vehicle."

Yes, it is fun, but for the vast majority, it is a means to an end. I would venture to guess that the number of folks you elude to "never leaving their vehicles" to be in the less than one percentile. C'mon, why would anyone drive to beautiful beach setting and never set foot in the sand, unless they are physically unable?

Here's what the same "South Beach" area looked like on 6/21/2009:

Pretty tame is you ask me. Folks parked and enjoying the water with their family in most cases, as the fisherfolk generally frequent the Cape Point beaches out of frame in these pictures.

Also, please note the drastic change in beach-user density in the last photo, which shows where the ORV beach meets the pedestrian beach in Frisco Village. Pedestrian closure violations generally outnumber those of ORV's, as they are by far the least educated beach user group.

I said all that to say this: It's not "Monster Jam" out there like some would have us believe. We want inclusion, not exclusion, and are willing to work within the rules that the NPS sets forth. We just feel that many of the massive closure sizes do not benefit any of the various user groups present, or the species they wish to protect.

You must also realize that most of these closures apply to pedestrians as well, and we fear that if the SELC Cartel is successful in forcing ORV's off the beach, pedestrians will soon follow suit.

This is the future we fight against:

This should concern everyone who loves our National Seashores, as it is a fast growing trend.

*********************************

Too get an idea what it feels like to be a Hatteras Island local and/or business person, please check out the video link below:

http://vimeo.com/14696293

Dap your pictures illustrate better the problems with ORVs on the park beach than I could explain. The ones of vehicles lined up with just enough room to open the door and the rest of the beach an ORV route is an excellent example of one user group (ORV) having a bigger footprint of very finite resource (ocean beach) than another. You should have included a pedestrian’s view from the beach between the parked cars and the dune. That part of the beach is temporarily destroyed of natural process and is of little recreational use to anyone but ORV users because it is an ORV route (as is the entire beach). I think this is not the way a National park should be managed. In addition vehicles are parked illegally in the pictures of the over- washed turtle nest. Some of those vehicles are in the “toe of the dune”. It is illegal to park on that section of beach. I don’t think vehicles should be driving on NP beach that is that narrow. The vehicles are practically in the dunes.
I am familiar with the section of NP beach in your pictures. It is near the NP campground, “Billy Mitchell”. I find I no longer want to camp in that campground because of the wall-to-wall vehicles and the tire-rutted beach adjacent to that NP campground. When you leave your campsite and walk over the boardwalk to go to the beach you most likely find a scene exactly as your picture portrays.
The visitors in the pedestrian beach you have identified have all just walked from their weekly rental house and are recreating on the NP beach directly adjacent to where they are staying. If all those visitors parked their vehicles there instead of walking I doubt there would physically be room for all of them. I would not want to recreate in the ORV section in that picture if I was renting a house near the Frisco beach.
Maybe we are in agreement about pedestrian access near resource closures? I see no reason why pedestrians (not ORVs) should not be able to walk at the waters edge around many nesting areas (both turtles and birds). I support responsible low impact access around resource concerns in CAHA.
How much money do you think OBPA, NCBBA and CHAPA have that is earmarked for ORV access? I know these organizations have received large amounts of money from the government (first critical habitat lawsuit) and Dare County. How much money has other National and local 4 wheel organizations ORV and fishing organizations contributed to these organizations?
Audubon, DOW and SELC all are great organizations. They are national in scope and are busy working to preserve ecosystems and threatened animals all over the world. It is a difficult mission. I think their work is vital and necessary. Go to their websites and see all the good work they are doing then go to the local ORV organizations and compare. CAHA is just one problem of many areas the environmental organizations are working on. Where as the ORV organizations have one primary issue, ORV access in CAHA. I believe the Goliath in this case is the local ORV/fishing organizations not the environmental organizations.
I feel that ORV organizations penchant with relocating turtle nests has more to do with setting a precedent of relocating turtles nest that temporarily block ORV access than turtle husbandry (not that I am opposed to relocating some nest that could benefit both turtles and access). Sorry I find your scenario comparing turtles being injured in navigable water and nesting turtles being run over on NP beach silly.
My fear is that the ORV’s organizations goals of having as much NPS ocean beach open for as long as possible open to ORV use will be realized. Turning a National Park that was designed and designated to be a primitive wilderness for people to recreate in into a gigantic national parking lot is wrong.

SS1,

With all due respect, Sir, it is painfully obvious that you are categorically against all ORV use on any beach, for any reason, and while I will defend your right to your opinion, I simply cannot agree with it.

Casting your lot with the likes of the SELC Cartel, and then misrepresenting our miniscule-in-comparison defensive action tells me all I need to know about your stance on this matter.

Get the last word if you wish. Otherwise, we waste bandwidth and time, as we both seem equally entrenched.

Good Day.