When a turtle leaves the sea to nest (or not) its referred to as a crawl. These crawls come in two flavors; one in which a nest is laid and the other, a false crawl, where the turtle comes onto the beach but returns to the water without nesting. Nobody knows why these false crawls occur but they do and are expected everywhere sea turtles nest.
Cape Hatteras happens to be on the extreme northern end of the turtle nesting range and consequently has relatively low nesting numbers compared with points further south. We usually end up with less than a hundred nests on the Seashores 70 odd miles of beach as compared to say Florida where nearly 50,000 nests are laid annually. And quite simply put, its the cooler climate and cooler water that account for this barrier of sorts. And that cooler water can often lead to death. My friend Kevin, an incredible conservationist and truly gifted fisherman just told me about an incident that occurred off of, I believe, South Carolina, where eighty some odd turtles were caught up in a cold water eddy off the coast and subsequently died of hypothermia. We've had quite a few turtles lost here for the same reason this year.
Back to the driving issue which is night driving. I'm not going to get into a major discussion as I'd be sitting here all day. And besides, Two friends of mine who have worked with and studied these animals at this Seashore since 1978 (one of them anyway) have just put together an exhaustive study of turtle nesting, habits, locations, mortality etc. that spans well over 100 pages in length. Nobody knows more about the nesting that's occurred at the Seashore over the last 32 years than Larry Hardham, President of the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club and his cohort, Bob Davis. Their study should be published soon I'm told, and that's where you'll be able to go for the statistical analysis. And considering that Larry has tracked every nest and false crawl that's happened here since '78, Id say the man knows what hes talking about.
Basically, the enviro-lawyers and NPS are claiming that driving at night during nesting season will prevent nesting by disturbance, sand compaction, headlights (or lights in general), tire ruts, etc. And then there's those who get all up in arms claiming a turtle may, might, possibly, could be, run over by an ORV. Only problem is, nobody seems to have told the turtles that these are issues because they keep on coming. If you want to know more, have a gander at the Coalition for Beach Access' position statement where some of this stuff is clearly and scientifically refuted. Here's one passage:
"Nighttime driving during the nesting season does not equate to zero protection of turtle nests. The likelihood of an ORV / turtle encounter is remote in the first place. In the best of years, approximately 1 nest and 1 false crawl occur nightly during nesting season over the seventy miles of beach. This very low density of nightly turtle activity, combined with naturally lower ORV activity at night, makes ORV / turtle encounters highly unlikely."
And another thing. When these all knowing biologists look at various species they come up with these "target" numbers. Where they get them, I have no clue. And every time I've asked one of these folks as to the justification for the given target number I keep getting muddled response that basically works out to be something like " well, we just think that this is what the number should be". When it comes to turtles, one of these numbers is referred to as the "false crawl ratio."
So the powers that be have established what they consider a proper ratio of false crawls to nests for a given beach system. If, for example, a given beach has a disproportionately high number of false crawls as opposed to nests and it exceeds the target ratio, then they'll say something is wrong etc. Take a trip over to:
http://www.preservebeachaccess.org/ and you'll find Mr Hardham explaining that even with night driving and 24/7 beach access, (the way it should be) the false crawl ratio here at the Seashore is better than the standard set for an entirely undisturbed beach.
(I should note that almost 40% of all turtle nests at the seashore are lost to storms, predation, and NPS's refusal to move nests in high risk zones where annual, predictable beach formation occurs.)
Alot of folks don't understand what these beaches are like so I thought Id throw in a couple of pics to help understand including a wildlife interaction of my own.
The beach off Ramp 44 with Buxton in the background.
Interacting with wildlife. This is "Frostbite". So named because the cold took almost all if his "toes". he came to say hello every time I was on the beach, three years running.
Well folks, that's all for now.