September 16, 2015

NPS clarifies night-driving near turtle nests


The Cape Hatteras National Seashore's annual announcement that ORV routes are now open at night on beaches without turtle nests has raised more than the usual number of questions from beach drivers.

The Park Service modified its wildlife protection buffers earlier this summer, and, as a result, driving is now allowed during the day in front of some turtle nests that have reached their hatch window and are "expanded" with a filter-fence corridor right down to the ocean's edge.

That change, along with a record number of turtle nests on the seashore, has caused some confusion about what happens at night on beaches where turtle nests remain.

Randy Swilling, the seashore's natural resource program manager, addressed some of those questions in an e-mail to users and user groups yesterday.

"The NPS acknowledges there may be some confusion at the intersection of old and new policy," Swilling said in the e-mail.

He said that where appropriate, daytime driving will be managed under the new NPS direction, which allows driving during the day in front of sea turtle nests, so the park staff will continue raking in front of nests each evening on nests that have been deemed "high priority."  Currently, he said, there are four nests east of R49 in Frisco that are being raked each night to allow daytime access.

However, he said that beaches with expanded -- starting at day 50 of incubation -- sea turtle nests will have a half-mile buffer on each side of the sea turtle nest at night.

"This is a full nighttime beach closure," Swilling said. "Where this buffer is in place, there will be no night driving, and it is very important to remember there are no corridors in front of or behind expanded nests."

Swilling said that the beach closes at 9 p.m. and reopens at 7 a.m.

If the nest is less than a half-mile from the ramp, the temporary half-mile buffer will result in a full closure of the ramp after 9 p.m.

He listed the following ORV routes on Hatteras Island that are currently affected:

  • R30: NH135 (0.7 mi S R30) laid on 07/24, expanded on 09/11/15 and is 53 days old.
  • R32: NH122 (0.03 mi S R32) laid on 07/20, expanded on 09/07/15 and is 57 days old. There are 4 other expanded nests in this area within 0.5 mi of the ramp, the youngest being 53 days old. Until they all have hatched the ramp remains closed.
  • R38: NH120 (1.57 mi S R38) laid on 07/20, expanded on 09/07/15 and is 57 days old. After this nest is hatched R38 will be wide open for night driving.
  • R43 and R44: NH121 (0.19 mi N R44) expanded on 09/07 and is 53 days old, NH141(0.18 mi S R43) expanded on 09/15 and is 49 days old, and NH143 (0.15 mi N R44) will be expanded on 09/17 and is 47 days old. NH154 (0.05 mi S R44) checked at day 50 (09/24) and will likely be expanded on day 55 (09/29) if no hatch activity is observed on day 50. This will also cause R44 to remain closed to night driving.
  • R49: NH136 (0.15 mi E R49) expanded on 09/11 and is 53 days old, NH127 (0.45 mi E R49) expanded on 09/09 and is 55 days old, NH140 (0.39 mi E R49) expanded on 09/15 and is 49 days old.

Swilling said typical hatch windows range from 55 - 65 days of incubation. He said that this year it has been earlier, ranging from 50 - 64 days. Hatching depends on the temperature at which the nests are incubated.

"Keep in mind this is not a full list of nests in the ORV areas," he said. 'Things will likely change almost daily as nests are expanded and excavated. 

Beach drivers can get more information on ORV routes on the seashore's Google Earth interactive site and the park's Off-Road Vehicle webpage, .

Updates on ORV closures around turtle nests will also be published on the seashore's Facebook Page.

However, the situation with the turtle nests is constantly changing and drivers are advised that the most current, up-to-date information is signage on the ground. 

In his e-mail Swilling also noted that another turtle nest near Ramp 44, which was laid on Aug. 9, has the potential to affect night driving to Cape Point when it is expanded.

"NPS staff are currently discussing alternatives to limit the impact to recreationists at Cape Point," Swilling said. "These may include utilizing the Turtle Sense technology, providing nest sitters, encompassing the nest area completely with filter fencing, and delaying the expansion to day 55 or later. Prior to expansion, the nest will be checked for viability."


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