With the breeding season still underway, 2010 is already a record-breaking year for rare sea turtles and waterbirds that nest on beaches at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, according to preliminary numbers from the National Park Service.
According to the National Seashore’s August 23, 2010 press release, 147 sea turtle nests have been recorded to date, the most nests ever documented at the seashore and part of 835 nests reported statewide this year (as of today) by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. The previous record at the seashore was 111 nests in 2008. The numbers may increase as the 2010 turtle nesting season continues for several more weeks.
Additionally, a record 15 piping plover chicks survived to fledge or learn to fly, the highest number ever documented since record-keeping began in 1992. Before current off-road vehicle management practices were implemented in April 2008, piping plover numbers within Cape Hatteras National Seashore declined to an all-time low of no chicks surviving to fledging in 2002 and 2004. The population of piping plovers that nest at Cape Hatteras is listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Likewise, 25 American oystercatcher chicks fledged from the Seashore’s beaches in 2010, with one unfledged chick remaining. An additional four chicks fledged on the Seashore’s uninhabited Green Island. This is the highest number of fledged chicks for that sensitive species reported at the Seashore since records have been kept.
Under an April 2008 consent decree, off-road vehicle (ORV) use is restricted in designated bird and turtle nesting areas on the seashore during their nesting seasons. The consent decree employs science-based protection measures that provide the minimum buffer distances needed to protect nesting birds and chicks from vehicles and human disturbance, as well as restrictions on night driving that are vital for nesting sea turtles.
Although a variety of factors including weather and predators can affect nesting success, scientific research, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan for the loggerhead sea turtle, confirms the importance of limiting ORV driving in turtle nesting areas.
The number of sea turtle nests at Cape Hatteras constitutes 17.6 percent of all the nests laid in North Carolina in 2010 to date, as compared to only 11.5 percent in 2000-2007, the eight years immediately prior to current beach driving protections going into effect. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has set a recovery goal of 200 loggerhead sea turtles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
“We are heartened by these impressive nesting numbers,” said Walker Golder, deputy director of Audubon North Carolina. “The unique waterbirds and sea turtles that depend on Cape Hatteras are a vital part of what makes the Seashore a national treasure. These nesting numbers illustrate that vehicles and wildlife can share the beach as long as sound, science-based protection measures are in place.”
“The success of this nesting season underscores the need for a long-term ORV management plan at the Seashore,” said Jason Rylander, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Our parks should be safe places for wildlife in addition to providing recreational opportunities for visitors.”
“Human disturbance is a primary factor in beach nesting success that is largely within the control of the Park Service,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We believe the effective management of beach driving contributed to this year’s tremendous success.”
The National Park Service is developing a final ORV management plan for Cape Hatteras National Seashore that must be implemented by April 2011. In May 2010, Southern Environmental Law Center, Defenders of Wildlife, and Audubon North Carolina submitted comments to the National Park service that outlined several measures necessary for the Park Service to meet its legal mandates to conserve and protect the natural resources of the seashore, leave them unimpaired for future generations, and provide an appropriate balance between continued ORV use and other public uses of the Seashore, including pedestrian and family use and wildlife conservation. Collectively, these organizations represent 1.5 million members and supporters.
The following documents are available:
Contact(s):Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226, email@example.com 
Walker Golder, Audubon North Carolina, (910) 686-7527, firstname.lastname@example.org 
Kathleen Sullivan, Southern Environmental Law Center, (919) 967-1450, email@example.com 
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 
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 
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