Sea Turtles, © William R. Curtsinger / National Geographic Stock

Another Record-Breaking Year for Cape Hatteras Sea Turtles

Haley McKey, Communications Associate

After successfully battling yet another attack on Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s off-road vehicle rules in June, it was exciting to see what the summer would bring. Would the sea turtles that depend on the park’s beaches repeat last year’s success?

Well, they didn’t just meet last summer’s record of 222 nests: they broke it! As of August 12th, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has counted 232 nests at Cape Hatteras, beating the 2012 count by ten nests! There may be even more in the coming weeks before the season ends in September. And this is a huge improvement on the 2011 count of 147 nests just one year before the new rules were put in place.

This is fabulous news for sea turtles, which are struggling to survive and thrive in spite of predation and human impacts. All of the five sea turtle species found at Cape Hatteras are endangered or threatened, which include leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley and green sea turtles.

Newborn sea turtles face a long and perilous journey. From the moment they hatch, they’re threatened by sea birds, crabs and other shore predators. If they make it safely to the ocean, they’re still prey to fish and other marine wildlife. They’re also in danger from human refuse: sea turtles may mistakenly consume garbage bags or other trash, confusing them for prey such as jellyfish. Combined with the dangers of entanglement with commercial fishing nets, boat collisions and even oil spills, it’s easy to see why scientists estimate that only about one percent of sea turtle hatchlings survive to reproductive maturity. It also means the success of every sea turtle nest matters.

It wasn’t until last summer that the National Park Service finally enforced rules managing off-road vehicle, or ORV, use on the beach at Cape Hatteras. This made the shore safer for mother sea turtles and their precious nests, and it showed: the 222 nests laid at the national seashore were an extremely positive sign that the rules were making a difference. This summer’s banner crop of nests and turtles helps reinforce that early success.

This is great news, but it’s important not to forget that ORV enthusiasts and other groups at Cape Hatteras have been fighting against any kind of safeguards for pedestrians and wildlife for years. The attack in June was only the latest attempt at weakening or doing away with them altogether. For decades before Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups turned to the courts for help getting the NPS to implement these rules, the park’s beaches were overrun with vehicles.

But as long as groups challenge the protection of sea turtles at Cape Hatteras, Defenders will be there to fight for them. These amazing and ancient creatures deserve a great chance at survival. At Cape Hatteras, they’ve gotten just that.

10 Responses to “Another Record-Breaking Year for Cape Hatteras Sea Turtles”

  1. ChyerlYoutz

    Great year, Which has absolutely nothing to do with the beaches being closed to ORV’s. it has always been due to weather, tides, hurricanes can wipe out a whole years worth of nests hatching in just one storm. Contrary to what you try to shove down the publics throat, visitors and locals alike love sea turtles and love to help sea turtles. Thank god, I know this for a fact, and I’m not a stupid person falling for that propaganda! I wish every person who loves turtles would research the facts before donating and signing your petitions! Sincerely, please people, check your scientific, factual research, please!

    • charlie

      The Outer Banks has been spared from crazy storms so far this year. If next years nests are destroyed by storms how will DofW explain that reality. Good research will show that ChyerlYoutz is correct.
      Bankers protect our resources…Check out N.E.S.T. a volunteer program which puts feet on the sand to protect turtles in a responsible, proactive, educational and caring way.

  2. summerclose

    I know that the NO Vehicle laws and strict restrictions against any pets, lights, and other disturbances on nesting beaches in South Carolina have been phenomenal. Everyone loves the dolphins and sea turtles (we hope) and enforcing the laws has been vital!! Thank you for all the work & awareness provided!! The animals sure cannot speak up for themselves!!….

  3. Lisa

    I am so grateful for all of your efforts to save these and other beloved creatures who have their home on this planet. I just do not understand why you have to fight so hard to ban off road vehicles- I mean are people really that ignorant- I guess so- I mean who needs to have an off road vehicle that bad on a beach where the little ones lay their eggs. There are plenty of other places to drive a vehicle like on the road.

  4. Carol

    As someone who had to move due to the economic crash that took place on the Outer Banks, I can promise you that the weather and tides saved the turtles. Not one ORV enthusiast that I ever knew did anything but help the wildlife. Show me data, not just statements presented as facts.
    You KNOW in order for this to be science instead of propaganda, it must be published, submitted to peer review, and validated. Amazing how that small fact that even my third graders are taught are forgotten by the masses. You have too many uncontrolled variables to state that it is due to ORV use. Would you like my elementary school students to explain the scientific process?

  5. kameHouse

    It already exists many reports and datas made by biologists and people who care.
    It’s not propaganda, people just have to make its own researches, there are a lot of informations on internet. It’s easy to make your own point of view.
    People who are finding for endangered species and biodiversity in large way have other things to do, whereas convincing people or giving proofs.

    If you need facts, just be logical, a bird (or turtle) vs an ORV? it’s easy to imagine who can be more prejuidicable for the other.
    we cant fight against hurricanes and storms but if we notice an increase of the number of storms, I dont think its birds or turtle’s fault but all our behaviour with GES and stuff. So, we have to be responsible and if we dont want to spend time protecting species, we can just let people do their job and do their best to make in order that in few years I (and you, or children) still could observed piping or turtle on the seashore.

    We cant really know all the variables but we cant wait to know exactly the impacts because it would be too late. When the specie is gone, its done!

    And as Lisa said, it exists road for vehicle, and beaches for birds and having fun. that’s it!

  6. Avongcjr

    What about the turtles that wash up in the sound that are cold stunned or killed from the cold weather there are large numbers here far more then what is reported?

  7. Mark

    I see the ORV criminals have to put in their comments to save face for their obvious guilt. How about driving your ORV around your living rooms and..hopefully trashing your undeserved house and destroying your foul machines in the process? That would save a lot of wildlife.. talk about selfish greedy vultures

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