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:
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, http://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/beachactivities.htm#ORV .
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.