Seashore biologist discusses
projects on interview show....WITH
Muiznieks, wildlife biologist and research coordinator for the Cape
Hatteras National Seashore, was the guest on Sunday, March 15, on the
Radio Hatteras Interview show, "To the Point."
Muiznieks is a native of southern California who received a bachelor's
degree in wildlife biology from the University of California - Davis
and a master's in zoology from North Carolina State University. She
worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before she joined the
National Park Service eight years ago and came to Cape Hatteras.
Currently, she is coordinating three important research projects at the
seashore, all of which are focused on the Park Service's dual mission
of protecting resources while providing the public with access for
recreation. The projects involve wildlife that nest on the seashore --
sea turtles, American oystercatchers, and piping plovers.
During the interview, Muiznieks shared details on each of the projects.
A project dubbed "Turtle Sense" is using technology to more accurately
predict exactly when turtle nests on the seashore will hatch.
The project was first conceived several years ago by Eric Kaplan,
founder of the Hatteras Island Ocean Center in Hatteras village, who
partnered with Nerds Without Borders to get the research underway.
Biologists are placing electronic sensors in certain sea turtle nests
that connect through a cable to a communication tower and send
information to a project manager at Nerds Without Borders.
The theory is that there will be a flurry activity from within the nest
before the baby turtles hatch and "boil" out to make their way to the
ocean. This usually happens after about 60 days of
incubation, but the actual hatch date can vary, depending on such
things as temperature and when the nest was laid.
Currently, the nests are "expanded" at 50 days to prepare for the
hatch. The expansion of the resource protection closure can
prohibit off-road vehicle and pedestrian access in certain areas, and
the expansion can last for weeks if the hatch date is especially late.
Therefore, if park biologists could more accurately predict the exact
hatch date, the times that beach areas are closed for nest hatching
could be reduced.
Last year was the first full year for the Turtle Sense
research. Muiznieks said that sensors were placed in 19 nests
on the seashore. There were glitches with a few of the
placements, but, she said, data was retrieved from 14 of the
The data is showing a spike in activity from two to five days before
the nest actually hatches. "For the most part," she said,
"it's quite accurate."
This year, Muiznieks said the seashore has 20 sensors that can be
reused, and that the goal is to place sensors in more than 40 nests to
Muiznieks cautions that the research is still in its very early stages
and that it is likely to be a number of years before park biologists
would be feel totally confident in letting sensors dictate turtle nest
American oystercatchers are not federally protected under the
Endangered Species Act, but are listed as "species of special concern"
by the state and are protected on the seashore.
The oystercatcher research is heading into its second year on the
seashore. Seashore biologists are working with North Carolina State
University graduate students to study how vehicle disturbance affects
nesting oystercatchers during incubation.
In order to do this, Muiznieks said that video cameras and heart rate
monitors in "imitation" eggs placed in nests are being used to record
how the birds react to vehicles that are driven near the nests by the
Although 26 pairs of oystercatchers nested on the seashore last year,
the first year of the research, not all of the nests could be used for
the project -- because of their location or because they were
intermingled with other nesting birds.
Data were gathered from seven or eight of the nests, a very small
sample size. This year, the project will be expanded to Cape Lookout
National Seashore to expand the sample size. A third year for
the project is planned for next summer.
Again, Muiznieks says that it is much too early to predict an outcome
from the research or what it might mean for nest buffers at the
seashore, but there are some early observations.
"In general," she said, "the thought is that the birds weren't
necessarily reacting to vehicle disturbance."
Piping Plovers are federally listed as a threatened species on the
seashore and breeding and nesting birds and their chicks are protected
from vehicles and pedestrians with buffers of varying sizes.
The size of the buffers -- especially the 1,000-meters for chicks --
have been especially contentious under the Park Service's ORV plan.
This year, a five-year research project will begin at Cape Hatteras
under the direction of Jim Fraser, a professor of wildlife biology at
Virginia Tech University, who has done other work with piping plovers.
Muiznieks says the research will be looking at such issues as fledge
rates, chick movement, predation, and survival and is geared to help
park biologists make decisions on the management of the piping plovers.
The research could involve using transmitters on some of the chicks.
All of the research projects are being paid for from ORV permit funds.
For fiscal year 2014, the cost of the research was $100,000 -- $60,000
for the oystercatcher disturbance study, $30,000 for Turtle Sense, and
$10,000 for the piping plover study.
Questions about the projects can be sent to [email protected].
"To the Point," which is hosted by Island Free Press editor Irene
Nolan, airs on the island's community radio station, FM 101.5 and FM
99.9, at 5 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of each month.
It is repeated on the second and fourth Sunday. Those who don't live on
Hatteras can listen to the show on Sundays through live streaming at
To listen to an audio of the interview, scroll down to the "To the
Point" logo -- an aerial photo of Cape Point -- and click on it.
'TO THE POINT
On the show, IFP editor Irene Nolan will be interviewing newsmakers
about the events and issues that affect all of us who live on Hatteras
Island and those of us who love to visit here.
"You can expect to hear from folks who are making the news, those who
are decision-makers, and some who are just plain interesting to talk to
about the island and its past, present, and future," she says.
Because the station's all-volunteer staff and small budget are
stretched tight, the show is pre-recorded. At this point,
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