Off road vehicle kills nesting sea turtle on Cape Hatteras National Seashore

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (06/25/2010) -

After a rare female loggerhead sea turtle was dragged and killed by an off-road vehicle while attempting to nest at night on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Southern Environmental Law Center today requested that the National Park Service immediately install barriers on all ramps to seashore beaches from sunset until when the beach is cleared by the turtle patrol to that enforces beach driving restrictions to protect nesting sea turtles.  The current practice of posting signs regarding the nighttime beach driving restrictions during turtle nesting season did not deter the off road vehicle (ORV) drivers and did not protect the turtle.

According to the National Park Service, the female loggerhead was struck and dragged approximately 12 feet by an ORV and her eggs strewn across the sand on Ocracoke Island sometime between the night of June 23 and early morning of June 24, 2010. The resulting injuries were fatal. Another nearby loggerhead sea turtle nest was run over by an ORV or multiple ORVs crushing the eggs in that nest.

Under an interim protection plan currently in place, driving on the National Seashore beaches is prohibited during evening hours in months when turtles are nesting.  The National Park Service has proposed a final ORV management plan that would continue turtle protections and prohibit night beach driving during sea turtle nesting season.  Dare County and other ORV advocacy groups oppose these restrictions.

“This tragic incident demonstrates conclusively that there can be no unauthorized vehicles on Seashore beaches at night during turtle nesting season--period,” stated Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the conservation organizations working to protect wildlife and improve ORV management on Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Loggerhead sea turtles are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering elevating the loggerhead to endangered status given its low numbers.  Harming a loggerhead sea turtle is a federal violation subject to both civil and criminal penalties.  

"The death of this rare turtle could have and should have been prevented," said Jason Rylander, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife.  "Better management of beach driving is essential to ensure such a loss does not happen again."

The death of the sea turtle overshadowed good news this week that the federally threatened piping plover population on the seashore has fledged a record number of chicks in 2010.  On June 24, the National Park Service reported that so far this breeding season 15 piping plover chicks have fledged, a record number since 1992 when intensive monitoring began.  Three nests remain so the number could increase. Prior to an April 2008 consent decree, piping plover numbers within Cape Hatteras National Seashore reached the all time low of no chicks in 2002 and 2004.

“The successful nesting and fledging of this threatened species on the seashore is further evidence of how reasonable restrictions on ORV use are necessary and can benefit birds and other wildlife,” stated Walker Golder, associate director of North Carolina Audubon.  Under the interim protection plan, ORV use is restricted in designated bird nesting areas on the seashore.

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Learn more about what Defenders is doing to protect sea turtles.

 

Note to Editors: 

Photos of the sea turtle are available from the National Park Service at 252-473-2111 ext. 148

Contact(s):

Ida Phillips, Audubon North Carolina, (919) 929-3899, iphillips@audubon.org
Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226, cleutwiler@defenders.org
Kathleen Sullivan, SELC, (919) 967-1450, ksullivan@selcnc.org

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members, supporters and subscribers, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. www.defenders.org 

Audubon North Carolina is the state office of the National Audubon Society representing 10,000 grassroots members and nine local chapters across the state. With a century of conservation history in North Carolina, Audubon strives to conserve and restore the habitats we share with all wildlife, focusing on the needs of birds. Audubon North Carolina achieves its mission through a blend of science-based research and conservation, education and outreach, and advocacy. www.ncaudubon.org

The Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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