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Management and protection protocols for nesting sea turtles on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

June 8, 2009

Executive Summary 1. The southeast U.S. population of the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) has increased since the species was listed as federally threatened in 1978. Since standardized monitoring began in North Carolina in 1995, the number of nests at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CAHA) fluctuated from year to year, and was lowest in 1996 and 1997 (39 nests) and highest in 2003 (101 nests). Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) have nested in small numbers at CAHA, sporadically over time. 2. Hatching success of sea turtle nests typically approaches 80%. At CAHA hatching success from 1999-2003 was low when hurricanes hit during the nesting season (30%-38%), and ranged from 52%-70% otherwise. Hatching success at CAHA is usually correlated with hatching success in the surrounding subpopulation (north Florida to North Carolina). 3. Inclement weather, predation, and human recreation can negatively impact nesting rate and hatching success. 4. Currently there is little protection from recreation at CAHA for nesting females and nests that have not been found by monitors. We propose three management options to provide such protection, and to increase protection for known nests and hatchlings. We propose an adaptive management framework for assessing the effectiveness of these management options in improving sea turtle nesting rate and nest and hatchling survival. 5. We recommend continued efforts to trap and remove mammalian predators from all sea turtle habitat. We further recommend intensive monitoring and surveillance of protected areas to determine the extent and timing of threats to nests and broods, including nest overwash, predation, and disturbance or vandalism by humans. 6. Continue to relocate nests and assist stranded turtles according to North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission guidelines. 7. Artificial light sources pose a serious threat to sea turtles in some parts of CAHA, which must be remedied immediately. We recommend that CAHA enact turtle-friendly lighting regulations and work with the communities within its borders to reduce light pollution and to eliminate artificial light sources that are directly visible from sea turtle nesting areas. 8. We recommend increased education and outreach to CAHA visitors, including requiring participation in an educational program before being granted nighttime beach access. The long-term success of sea turtle recovery will depend on public cooperation and positive public attitudes toward sea turtles and turtle management actions.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Management and protection protocols for nesting sea turtles on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Authors J.B. Cohen
Publication Type Book
Publication Subtype
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 5200337
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center