Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Beach Activities

The Problem: Human use of nesting beaches can result in negative impacts to nesting turtles, incubating egg clutches and hatchlings. The most serious threat caused by increased human presence on the beach is the disturbance to nesting females. Night-time human activity can prevent sea turtles from emerging on the beach or even cause females to stop nesting and return to the ocean. Beach Furniture and other recreational equipment (e.g., cabanas, umbrellas, hobie cats, canoes, small boats and beach cycles) can reduce nesting success and increase false crawls on nesting beaches. There is also increasing documentation of nesting females becoming entrapped in beach furniture. Beach Driving, either at night or during the daytime, can negatively impact sea turtles. Night time driving can disturb nesting females, disorient emerging hatchlings, and crush hatchlings attempting to reach the ocean. Tire ruts left by vehicles can extend the time it takes a hatchling to reach the ocean and increase their chance of being caught by a predator. Driving during the day can cause sand compaction above nests resulting in lower nest success. Additionally, beach driving contributes to erosion, especially during high tides or on narrow beaches.

Species Affected: All species of sea turtles are affected by beach activites.

The Solution:
  * Don't drive on sea turtle nesting beaches;
  * Make sure to fill in any holes you dig while visiting the beach ;
  * Remove any beach chairs, beach umbrellas, boats, or other beach furniture each evening;
  * Avoid disturbing marked sea turtle nests, and take your trash with when you leave the beach.

Case Study: There are a few studies that have looked at the direct effects of beach driving on sea turtles, and those studies support the contention that unrestricted beach driving will hinder sea turtle conservation efforts. Sand compaction from driving above a nest can decrease nesting success and kill hatchlings. Tire tracks could significantly impede a hatchling’s ability to reach the surf. A study conducted at Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout concluded that driven beaches have higher percentages of false crawls and lower incubation temperatures, possibly resulting in a lower percentage of female hatchlings. The relationship between incubation period and sex ratio was determined using models for the southeastern United States. There are numerous possibilities for indirect and direct effects of beach driving on sea turtle populations. The Loggerhead Recovery Plan lists several of these effects including: disturbing nesting females, aborting nesting attempts, and disorienting hatchlings. In addition, beach driving contributes to erosion, which will eventually deteriorate the quality and quantity of nesting habitats. Increased human use and the resulting increase in sand compaction have been shown to decrease hatching success.

Related links:
  * Beach Driving Management at Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, North Carolina, USA
  * Volusia County Sea Turtle Habitat Conservation Plan - Based on Allowing Beach Driving