HARKERS ISLAND – – In order to protect wildlife, including nesting birds and sea turtles, nearly 20 miles of beach at Cape Lookout National Seashore is temporarily closed to motor vehicles.
As of Monday, there were 19 out of 47 miles of beach closed while 28 miles of beach, and 40 miles of back road remained open open to vehicles, according to the National Park Service. A Cape Lookout Beach Access Status Map on the park service website shows ramps and beach areas open for vehicles.
“Our dedicated biological monitoring staff have been overwhelmed with monitoring and managing this upsurge in beach wildlife, but are excited that this will be one for the record books at Cape Lookout,” said Jon Altman, resource management supervisor at Cape Lookout National Seashore.
As of Monday, there were 112 shorebird nests, consisting of piping plovers, American oystercatchers and a multitude of terns and black skimmers.
Hurricane Florence improved the nesting habitat for shorebirds by flattening the dune line, which created large sand flats with no vegetation, according to park resource managers. This change allowed nesting birds to have a better view of would-be predators from a distance, giving the parents an opportunity to redirect the predator away from the nest. This has lead to more bird nests surviving to hatch and produce chicks, which take anywhere from 25 to 45 days until they take flight.
There has also been record-setting number of sea turtle nests, mainly loggerhead and green sea turtle, so far this year. There were 217 sea turtle nests, totaling more than Cape Lookout had for all of the 2018 season. Resource rangers began looking for nests May 1, and spotted the first nest May 4. By the end of the month, there were 82 nests, compared to only 10 nests in May 2018. The average number of nests in May for the period from 1990 to 2017 is 7.7 nests. Resource rangers perform daily patrols for sea turtle nests until Sept. 15.
“I would also like to thank Cape Lookout National Seashore visitors for their cooperation in respecting the temporary wildlife closures,” Altman added.
For more information about Cape Lookout National Seashore, visit the website or contact the park at 252-728-2250, extension 0.