Decades of unregulated beach driving have pushed the birds at Cape Hatteras National Seashore — a globally significant IBA — to the brink. Populations of waterbirds that nest on the Seashore's beaches, like Least Terns and Black Skimmers, plummeted 84% from 1997 to 2007. Rare sea turtles were also suffering alarming declines. In the fall of 2007 Audubon and other conservation groups successfully pushed for a temporary science-based management plan, which, in just four years, has enabled these birds and turtles to make a comeback.
In 2011 nesting birds and sea turtles continued their recovery under science-based protection guidelines developed by Audubon and partners. With the sea turtle nesting season still underway in early September, 147 nests had been counted, approaching the all-time record of 153 nests set in 2010. Nesting terns, skimmers, plovers and oystercatchers have also continued their success.
In July 2011 the National Park Service proposed new, permanent regulations for off-road vehicle use on the Seashore's beaches that jeopardize much-needed wildlife protections and put the future for birds like the Piping Plover, Least Tern, Black Skimmer, and many other shorebird species in doubt. The proposed regulation will control what happens at Cape Hatteras for decades and set a precedent for other national parks. As written, the regulation does not mandate specific, science-based protections for the wildlife that depends on the Seashore and it provides only a few areas for families to safely enjoy vehicle-free beaches.
Audubon and its partner organizations coordinated a citizen response to the proposed regulation and also submitted detailed comments to the National Park Service. Audubon is working to insure that the Park Service will revise the plan so that it guarantees adequate space and protections for wildlife, while still allowing responsible beach driving in some areas so that all visitors can fully enjoy this national treasure.
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Cape Hatteras National Seashore, an Important Bird Area
Beach Driving at Cape Hatteras, Treehugger.com
Delicate balance on Cape Hatteras, The Virginian-Pilot, June 13, 2009
Working together to protect Hatteras, The Virginian-Pilot, March 28, 2009