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Sea turtles are nesting at Cape Hatteras – and all along the southeast coast -- in record numbers

Thursday 05 August 2010 at 4:58 pm.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore has already broken a record this year for sea turtle nests – 131 as of Thursday, Aug. 5.

The previous record was 112 nests in 2008.  In 2009, nests were slightly down, but still above average at 104.

You need not jump to the conclusion that nesting is up because of the court-sanctioned consent decree under which the seashore has been managed since 2008.  That decree banned night driving on the beach during the nesting season and spelled out the closures for nests.

The fact is that sea turtle nesting is up all along the southeast coast in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia on beaches that are not operating under the decree.

It’s just a good year for turtle nesting.

“It’s up relative to last year,” says Matthew Godfrey, sea turtle biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, “but it is not the best year ever.  It’s just above average.”

As of today, 748 nests have been reported in North Carolina, and there are weeks to go in the nesting season, though it is beginning to wind down.

The loggerhead is the predominant sea turtle that nests in the state.

The breakdown of this year’s 748 nests is 729 loggerheads, six green turtles, two leatherbacks, three Kemp’s ridleys, and two unknown species.

That is up compared to last year’s 612 loggerhead nests, and above the state average of 720 loggerhead nests.

Godfrey says the record since statistics have been kept is 1,140 loggerhead nests in 1999.

South Carolina has reported 2,900 nests so far this year, far above the 2,194 last year. In 2008, the state recorded more than 4,000 nests and in 1981, there were more than 6,000.

On the undeveloped Cape Lookout National Seashore to our south, which usually has more nests than Cape Hatteras, there are 118 nests this year – below the Hatteras total of 130.

There were 141 nests on Cape Lookout in 2009 – more than the Hatteras total of 104 -- and 107 nests in 2008, slightly below the Hatteras total of 112.

“We are seeing a very common up-and-down pattern,” Godfrey says.

Female sea turtles do not nest every year, but more like every two or three or even four years, he says.


Godfrey says the up-and-down numbers are less related to conditions on the beach than they are to food sources.

Here is what he says:

“Sea turtles are considered ‘capital breeders,’ which means that they will reproduce only when they have met a minimum threshold of energy storage (i.e. fat stores). If their foraging areas are not so productive in a particular year, that would mean that fewer individual females would reach the minimum threshold necessary for reproduction, and thus would likely postpone their reproduction for another season.

“This would result in fewer individuals starting their reproductive migrations and eventually nesting, and thus we would see fewer nests laid. The following year, if the food resources were more plentiful, more animals would enter reproductive condition, and thus the total number of nests laid would be higher than the previous year.

“Even if food resources were not significantly better in the second year, there would be a cohort of individual females that were closer to the minimum threshold (because they stayed back an extra year), and thus the total number of females ready to breed would be higher.

So, an up and down pattern is common for sea turtle annual nest numbers. Of course, there may be a few years of increasing or decreasing values, but overall, it goes up and down.”


Adult female turtles are said to come back to the beach where they hatched to lay their nests, but Godfrey noted that it seems apparent from satellite and flipper tagging that they come back to the “same region” where they hatched. That could indicate that not all females nesting on a certain beach – say Cape Hatteras or Cape Lookout – hatched on that beach but on a nearby beach.

Godfrey also addressed the issue of false crawls – when turtles come onto the beach but return to the ocean without laying a nest.

This year, the seashore has had 100 false crawls, compared to the 131 nests laid.

“Some people,” he says, “use it as an indication of disturbance on the beach.”

However, he says that the reason sea turtles make false crawls “is known only to them.”

“We don’t know why turtles make false crawls,” he adds.

Indeed from 2000-2003 when park visitation was up and there were no night driving restrictions, the false crawl ratio was .075:1.  In 2008 and 2009, with park visitation down and restrictions on night driving, the false crawl ratio increased to .095:1.

Larry Hardham, president of the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, a board member of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, and a member of the Park Service’s unsuccessful negotiated rulemaking committee, notes that no matter what the increase in nesting is, the more important number is how many hatchlings make it back to the ocean.

“If there are 150 ghost crab holes in front of a nest, they don’t have much of a chance,” he says.

To help the chances of baby turtles making it to the ocean, the National Park Service is bringing back its Nest Watch program, which recruits volunteers to stand watch over nests about to hatch and help ensure the young turtles make it to the ocean.

More information on that program is available on the Beach Access and Park Issues Page.

As of today, four nests have hatched on the seashore with many to go, and many of them are nests that when they reach their hatch window and are expanded will close down popular areas of the beach.

It probably won’t be long before you see the Southern Environmental Law Center media release, on behalf of the National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, claiming that the consent decree has resulted in record sea turtle nests at the seashore.

When you read it, just remember that it’s been a good year for the turtles up and down the coast – not just on the seashore.



FOR MORE INFORMATION

For other articles about sea turtle nesting:

A common sense approach to managing sea turtles…Shooting the Breeze, the Editor’s Blog, May 25, 2010
http://islandfreepress.org/PivotBlog/pivot/entry.php?id=95#body

Sea Turtles nested in record numbers in 2008:
http://islandfreepress.org/2008Archives/08.12.2008-SeaTurtlesAreNestingOnTheSeashoreInRecordNumbers.html

Federal agencies propose to move North Carolina Loggerheads to the endangered list:
http://islandfreepress.org/2010Archives/04.20.2010-FederalAgenciesProposeToMoveNCLoggerheadsToEndangeredList.html

twenty comments

Dennis

Hmmmmmmmm, ok I think I get it. In all those words the point is that the consent decree has nothing to do with the increase of sea turtle nests this year.

I wonder what would be said IF sea turtle nesting was down? I suspect that blame for that would be placed directly on the consent decree.

Dennis - 06-08-’10 19:12
Barbara Ackley

Saving sea turtles at Cape Hatteras has been a dismal failure. We have lost so many eggs and hatchlings. There is no proof that any hatchlings ever make it to the ocean.

It is interesting that Supt. Murray is finally beginning a volunteer program. Could it be that he doesn’t have sufficient personnel to do the turtle work? Two Resourse Managers left the end of July. Michelle and Tyler Bogardus who suvervised Ocracoke and Bodie districts,respectively, left for jobs in Hawaii. College students and summer interns will be leaving soon.

Here is what the volunteers will be doing:

" Volunteers are needed and will be trained to assist NPS
biologists with monitoring nest sites, educating the general public about
sea turtle management, installing and maintaining closures, handling
hatchlings, and assisting with excavations."

While I might attend some sessions in order to learn as much as I can from the person who teaches the program and the input from those attending, it is doubtful that I will participate this year. Obviously I physically can’t install and maintain closures. I refuse to be part of any excavations unless they are to safe beach areas, not just to the dune line in the perilous area in which they are laid. I hope the nest monitoring program will gather counts of hatchlings actually reaching the ocean and volunteers are allowed to keep back the ghost crab infestation and allow the hatchlings to make it.

Until the Cape Hatteras staff recognizes the programs and successes in other SE Atlantic seashores, I can not be supportive or give of my time and energy. We have done extensive research and donated nearly our full time work hours and effort to writing and presenting our research to the NPS and the reg/neg committee over the last 5-6 years. We still fail to see the changes necessary, or even planned according to the DEIS, to make the program save the endangered turles who come to our beaches. Barbara Ackley (Email ) - 07-08-’10 09:46
puzzled

So the Seashore has not just a record year for sea turtle nests, but blows away the old record from the first year after the consent decree. And it is only an above average and not record year in NC. And the three years since the consent decree are the three highest number of turtle nests ever recorded on the Seashore. And this year is a record for fledged piping plover chicks and oystercatcher chicks on the Seashore. And nesting colonial waterbirds have doubled since the consent decree. And both black skimmers and gull-billed terns nested on the Seashore this year after disappearing prior to the consent decree. And to top it off, Seashore visitation is up and there are no rentals available. There must be something going on. It couldn’t just be better management of ORVs could it?

puzzled - 07-08-’10 15:17
Crotalus

Dennis,
Both sides seem insistent on crediting, blaming or dismissing the consent decree in an attempt to spin their version of reality, when the simple truth is, three years under the consent decree isn’t enough time to credit or blame it, either partially or fully, for increased plovers or decreased tourism.
There are more factors in play then just the consent decree in both cases.

And, I must restate, that anyone who’s spent anytime here at all knows that when the storms come, there’s no such thing as a “safe beach” for sea turtle nests.

Crotalus (Email ) - 07-08-’10 16:07
Dennis

Crotalus,

I concur with you on how the consent decree is thrown about by both parties like birdseed/rice at a wedding.

If memory serves me correctly, maturity for sea turtles like the loggerhead is 30-35 years before mama turtles nests, but placing blame on the recent consent decree for anything or everything that happens on the Outer Banks seems to be the convenient thing to do.

I hear ya on the storms and when they happen all bets are off on survival of the Plover/turtle nests. Please let Barbara know that the NPS has no control of these storms, but then the NPS is a convenient target to blame isn’t it?

Dennis - 07-08-’10 17:15
John Alley

Damn Crotalus.

Why do you have to go and say something I agree with?

I always hoped that Mike Murray would be the one to bring a real balance to this place and it’s a good start. Every side has decades of the NPS ignoring their concerns and tempers are running high for the residents of the Island. Their livelihood is threatened on so many fronts. Are they going back in time to ferry service? When will the next storm take out the road? If the visitors can get here will there be beaches open they want to visit?

A really good step would be getting rid of the 1,000 meter plover closures. They only exist in recommendations where no monitoring is present and surely that does not apply here.

John Alley - 07-08-’10 21:47
Salvo Jimmy

Of Interest on NCBBA

http://ncbbaonline.com/news/262-august-1..

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 10-08-’10 18:20
fisherman

Crotalus spewed:
“Both sides seem insistent on crediting, blaming or dismissing the consent decree in an attempt to spin their version of reality, when the simple truth is, three years under the consent decree isn’t enough time to credit or blame it, either partially or fully, for increased plovers or decreased tourism.”

The consent decree may or may not get credit for increased plovers. Though it is 100% fact that the consent decree has decreased tourism on HI in the spring. I alone know about a dozen fisherman that won’t or can’t fish in the spring due to excessive closures required by CD. Thus negatively affecting tourism.

I don’t know how a closure of a popular fishing spot could increase tourism in any way.

fisherman - 12-08-’10 09:32
Crotalus

fisherman whined,
The consent decree may or may not get credit for increased plovers. Though it is 100% fact that the consent decree has decreased tourism on HI in the spring. I alone know about a dozen fisherman that won’t or can’t fish in the spring due to excessive closures required by CD. Thus negatively affecting tourism.

I don’t know how a closure of a popular fishing spot could increase tourism in any way

Oh, I’m sure a few dozen fishermen aren’t coming down in the summer because they can’t fish their favorite spots – some I know are just coming in October instead. Even so, visitation to the park doesn’t appear to be falling.

Crotalus (Email ) - 15-08-’10 20:25
Dave Vachet

and Crotalus opined:
“Even so, visitation to the park doesn’t appear to be falling.”

Until a valid socio-economic impact analysis is presented that details the impacts to the islands, your comment is nothing more than speculation. Especially when the visitation numbers available include areas north of the Bonner.

Dave Vachet - 17-08-’10 11:07
Crotalus

Dave Vachet asserted

Until a valid socio-economic impact analysis is presented that details the impacts to the islands, your comment is nothing more than speculation. Especially when the visitation numbers available include areas north of the Bonner.

The park tracks visitation to the park ( http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewRepo.. and http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewRepo.. ). The only area north of the bridge included would be Whalebone Junction/Bodie Island and according to the stats, visitation there has decreased (under construction), while it’s increased at Hatteras and Ocracoke VCs over last yer.

Crotalus (Email ) - 17-08-’10 18:46
Barbara Ackley

Dave,

An indication of the socio-economic effect of the beach closures is the enfollment at Cape Hatteras Schools. There has been a drop in the Hatteras Schools of 12.5% from fall 2005 – fall 2009. The drop in the Secondary School from Feb. 2005 to spring 2010 was 23.3 %. The summer of 2005 was the first time that Cape Point was closed by Supt. Belli. Since then the island has suffered economically. Many of the workers have had to leave to find work to support their families. This was not only a loss to our island economy, it caused a severe impact on the families.

The affect of the closures on visitors, is demonstrated by the loss of business, employment, and school enrollment. There has been an increase in needs for social services and food pantry, as will as foreclosures and rise in taxes. The property transfer tax has crippled and limited our county to finance capital improvements. The impacts are far reaching in our social and economic well being.

Barbara Ackley (Email ) - 17-08-’10 22:39
Salvo Jimmy

When you look at the numbers in the reports Crot linked to you see about a 3% increase in visitation 2008 to 2009.

When you look at how these numbers are derived

http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/Counting..

it is IMHO a SWAG at best with lots of estimates, multipliers, etc much of which is based on traffic counts, not actual bodies.

I would say 3% is probably well within the statistical error considering how the numbers are derived, but I’m no statistician.

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 18-08-’10 08:19
Dave Vachet

Yeah, the justification for these resource protection methods, and the argument that the socio-economic impact is minimal or non-existent is just getting thinner and weaker.

Dave Vachet - 18-08-’10 09:51
Crotalus

Salvo Jimmy,
They used the same methods in 2008, that they used in 2009, no? And that’s just for the traffic counter. And it’s no SWAG, ask a statistician if you’re in doubt.
The other increased counts are actual head counts.

Dave,
We’re in about the third year of a economic downturn, so I’m not sure how you are going to quantify what’s had more effect on the economy.

Barbara’s attempted correlation with enrollment seems slippery at best seeing how students graduate out of the system and new residents with school-age children are required to increase it. New residents, or recruitment from the kids who have graduated and gone off to college, requires more career jobs – something other then slopping food for tourists or cleaning up rentals 6 mo/year – that enables them to provide for a family.
But it seems most of the newer folks here are retirees who have raised their children.

And Belli was packed up and moved out of his office after folks pulled political strings and had him removed because he stated he was instituting a greater degree of resource protection, so he wasn’t around when Cape Point closed in 2005.

Crotalus (Email ) - 18-08-’10 20:15
Salvo Jimmy

Crot

I’d say your idea on school enrollment is just as SWAGie as traffic counters with a guestimated head counts.

BTW I think the visitation numbers have been done the same way since the early 90’s.

Don’t know that there is any better way, but it is still an estimate at best and maybe the only cost effective method that stat czars can come up with. But I don’t buy implying that 3% with that method is meaningful.

Just like your school thing, they could just as well been passing thru and never stopped except for waiting on the ferries.

Even you have said the small numbers up/down over a few years re plovers is not yet a true indicator.

Ya can’t have it both ways on the numbers.

Now how about a comment on water consumption. Yeah, yeah, I know folks are going green and dirty.

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 19-08-’10 06:34
Crotalus

Salvo Jimmy,
Not sure I follow all of your post, especially the parts about the schools.

Before such statistical methods are ever put into practice, they’re ground-truthed. In other words they actually count heads and measure against the statistical methods.

I don’t know anything about the water consumption. How many gallons does the average tourist use per visit? What’s the consumption south of the bridge?

Crotalus (Email ) - 19-08-’10 14:52
Salvo Jimmy

RE stat method. Sure they are veted. BUT the current method is still a best guestimate based on multipliers even for campers, boats and aircraft and it’s been used for about 17 years. Is it even valid that long.

And a head count at the lighthouse or a visitor center means only the count at that location has gone up/down and can only be used to estimate/extrapolate as to what is happening in the Seashore as a whole. eg. overall Seashore visitation could be up and fewer of those folks going to visitor centers.

RE time period of year to year. Look at the recreation visit summary for 1993 onward when the current measurement method was started.

http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewRepo.. an increase unti

Shows an increase to about 2002 / 2003 (with a couple blips), then a basic decline to around 2.2M from 2004 on. Closure related ??? I think yes to some degree. But again just like plover counts it will take more than a few years to say.

That decline from 2002/2003 to me is probably more like what is really happening than a slight up tick 2008 to 2009 that some like to brag about.

RE water consumption on HI, my understanding it is down from years past. And I would speculate tourists are not great water conservationist, but is it really related to body count; who knows.

RE schools, you countered that school enrollment could well be down because of factors not related to folks moving away. Could be.

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 19-08-’10 17:32
Salvo Jimmy

Forgot to mention re overall visits vs visitor centers / lighthouse.

The 2010 YTD (thru Jul) report shows a slight down tick on overall visitation but a slight up tick in visitor center / lighthouse visits.

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 19-08-’10 17:39
Salvo Jimmy

Of interest re turtles

http://ncbbaonline.com/news/264-august-2..

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 23-08-’10 11:04




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