Cape Hatteras National Seashore personnel are investigating the apparent vehicle injury of a sea turtle in the midst of laying eggs Aug. 20 off Ramp 32, between Avon and Salvo on Hatteras Island.
The sea turtle, a threatened species Green sea turtle (chelonia mydas), is believed to have come onto the beach sometime that evening to lay a nest in the sand, according to an NPS press release.
Turtle tracks led from the ocean to the nesting site approximately 20 feet above the high tide line in an off-road vehicle travel area. The turtle had begun to lay eggs in a nest dug into the sand when it is believed, based on evidence at the scene, that a motor vehicle struck and ran over the nesting turtle. The incident was not reported by the involved party.
The injuries to the sea turtle were so severe that the turtle had to be euthanized by NPS staff. Nine sea turtle eggs were found immediately adjacent to the injured turtle. Park Service biological technicians working at the scene were able to salvage an additional 172 eggs, which were then deposited in a nest site nearby in hopes that these eggs will eventually hatch in a natural state.
“This is a tragic and unfortunate incident,” said Superintendent David Hallac. “We ask that all people utilize caution and look carefully for nesting wildlife when enjoying the Seashore’s beaches.”
Visitors to Cape Hatteras National Seashore are reminded that sea turtles, while predominately nesting during nighttime hours, may be present on Seashore beaches at any hour of the day.
The maximum speed limit in off-road vehicle areas is 15 miles per hour. Nighttime driving restrictions are in place during summer months to protect nesting sea turtles. All off-road vehicles must be off Seashore beaches by 9 p.m.
Chief Ranger Boone Vandzura stressed in an interview that any time anyone hits wildlife in the seashore they should call 911 so that the dispatcher can get the right officers to the scene.
“Just let us know about it,” he said. “We can get to it and give it the help it needs rather than it being in pain all night.”
He explained that penalties for accidentally injuring wildlife depend on the egregiousness of the circumstance, such as if someone was driving on the beach after hours and other factors are involved. NPS law enforcement officers have the latitude to give either warnings or tickets, he said.
“The penalty’s worse if you leave the scene and we catch you,” he said.
If, for example, someone is looking for a lost pet on the beach, Vandzura urged people to call the NPS first because they know the beach, where the nests are and can help.
“We’re fair and reasonable and can talk it through,” Vandzura said.
National Park Service rangers are working with federal, state, and local authorities to understand the circumstances surrounding this incident.
Anyone with information that may help determine what led to the severe injuries of this sea turtle are asked to contact the Dare County Community Crimeline.
For more information, please contact: http://darecommunitycrimeline.org, or call 252-473-3111 or 800-745-2746.