by NSW Maritime
There is a battle raging on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to save the Piping Plover. When the People of Hatteras Island had their land taken from them to form the National Seashore they were promised that they would always have access to the beaches in the same manner as they always have had access. Even in the earliest days people drove to the beach, first with pack animals and later with cars and trucks.
Now, that promise is being ignored and access to those same beaches is slowly being taken away to save the Piping Plover. Those who are trying to take access away try to diminish the impact by claiming it is just 12% of the beaches being affected. 12% is not much in the overall picture but this number is deceiving.
There are around 80 miles of beach in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. If we lose access to 12% of that amount it would be insignificant except for the fact the access has been taken away from a large part of it already. Of the 80 miles only 50 miles is open to ORV access and this number does not take into account all of the areas that are closed seasonally to protect shore bird and turtle nests. Closing another 12% of the park would bring the total closed areas to more than 50% of the park and this is only counting the permanent closures. If there is any evidence of bird or turtle nesting activity beaches are closed on a moments notice.
40% of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is already permanently closed to ORV use and what is the net result? Let’s look at nesting bird population on Pea Island National Wildlife refuge on the north end of Hatteras Island. There has not been ORV access to Pea Island for over 30 years so one should expect to see healthy colonies of birds utilizing this preserve. The problem is there are none. No Piping Plover has ever used Pea Island to nest.
If ORV use is the problem for piping plovers how come the birds have not taken advantage of the 30 miles of protected beachfront on Hatteras Island? The reason is because the problems facing the Piping Plovers are bigger than trucks on the beach. Their success at breeding is abysmal. There is something else affecting the birds and it is either being ignored or neglected.
The Piping Plovers could be falling victim to pollution or any number of environmental concerns but we will never know because all of the blame is being directed at the trucks driving on the beach. Migrating birds of all species stop off in the Delaware Bay in the spring of every year to fatten up before the breeding season. They like the Delaware Bay because at the same time the birds stop off the Horse Shoe Crabs come ashore and lay billions of eggs in the shallows. This supply of food is diminishing as Horse Shoe crabs are being over fished to use as bait to catch Whelks. Without this abundant food source there is nothing that will save the birds.
As long as everyone’s attention is on ORV use the real culprit behind the decline of the Plovers will go unobserved and unattended. Where are the Piping Plovers? This is where the real research is needed.