Beach Access and Park Issues
April 28, 2010

Night driving prohibited on beaches from May 1- Sept. 16

Beginning May 1, all Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches are closed to off-road vehicles (ORVs) between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., in accordance with the court ordered consent decree.  

Enforcement of the restriction will begin at midnight on Friday, April 30.  The 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. prohibition on beach driving will remain in effect until Nov. 15.  However, under the terms of the consent decree, the National Park Service may issue permits between Sept. 16 and Nov. 15 to authorize night driving on seashore beaches.

The Park Service retains the discretion to limit night driving to certain areas or routes, based on resource protection considerations.  

Before Sept. 16, the seashore will announce the availability of the night driving permits and how to obtain the permit.  The permits will be available through Nov. 15 at no charge and with no limit on the number of permits.

There are no restrictions on night driving between Nov. 15 and May 1.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore provides crucial nesting habitat for loggerhead and green sea turtles, as well as the occasional leatherback.  Loggerhead and green turtles are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and leatherbacks are considered endangered.  

Sea turtles typically lay nests at night between May and September, when adult turtles come ashore to deposit around 100 ping-pong ball sized eggs into a cavity in the sand.  

While nesting, these turtles are susceptible to human disturbance on the beach.  If a nesting turtle is disturbed, it may not nest at all, or may lay a nest in a less than optimal area.  

Once laid, eggs will incubate in the sand for 50-70 days before the hatchlings emerge and make their way to the ocean.  The hatchlings will use light cues in order to find their way from their nest to the sea, making them vulnerable to artificial lights from houses, piers, headlights, beach fires, and lanterns.  

According to a Park Service media release, studies vary, but it is estimated that only one in 1,000 to one in 10,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.  Ten to 15 percent of the turtle nests laid in North Carolina are laid on Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches.  

In 2009, 104 sea turtle nests were documented at the seashore.

The night driving restriction will be posted at all seashore ORV access ramps.  The regulation is enforceable by NPS law enforcement rangers, and violators are subject to up to six months imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine.

 To report violations, contact: Dare Central Communications:  252-473-3444.  For further information, contact the Chief Ranger’s Office at 252-473-2111.

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