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Soundings

A fresh take on the region's salty affairs

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Provides Opportunity for Scientific Discovery

By: Emily Jones, Senior Program Manager, Southeast Region, National Parks Conservation Association 
November 3, 2016

Least tern chick and egg.  Photo credit: Lindsay Addison

What would Yellowstone be without bison, Glacier without grizzles, the Everglades without alligators?  What would Cape Hatteras be without Loggerhead Sea Turtles and American Oystercatchers? The shore birds and sea turtle species at Cape Hatteras are part of the National Park and regional landscape.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore was authorized by Congress in 1937 as the nation’s first national seashore. The national seashore consists of more than thirty thousand acres distributed along approximately 67 miles of shoreline in North Carolina. The National Park Service (NPS) management extends from the mean low tide line on the seaward side to 150 feet into the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound.  While the National Seashore is part of a dynamic barrier island system, human engineering has changed ecological processes, eliminating habitat and altering the barrier islands shoreline and sound.

Of all the wonderful opportunities our national parks provide, perhaps the most exciting is that they are living laboratories of discovery. America’s National Parks hold discoveries that stretch across so many fields of scientific theory and practice.  Discoveries can be biological, finding a species new to science; chemical, the properties found inside a geyser that bubbles up from deep inside the earth; or archeological, fossils from a herd of prehistoric animals experiencing a climatic event.

Scientific studies tell us about the behavior of animals and the life cycles of plants. Science reveals the wonders of the natural processes of barrier islands and the interdependence of plants and animals in the natural world.

Sand dunes on the beach of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Photo credit: Cvandyke / Dreamtime

Leading scientists came together for a Science Workshop at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in September of 2016 to talk about their discoveries, and to present their research and findings to panelist working in fish and wildlife conservation, rehabilitation, ecology, climate change and conservation biology.

The workshop looked at wildlife behavior and management outside the context of recreation. By looking at the science independently, park resource managers can develop and refine strategies to protect habitat, and foster the success of threatened and endangered species at the National Seashore.

The Science Workshop was designed to engage a panel of experts in conducting an independent scientific review of wildlife monitoring and research programs. They also reviewed the national park’s management of species. The researchers provided data to address questions posed by NPS about management targets for shorebirds and sea turtles, the improved management and protection of the species, and research and monitoring that should be put in place, while continuing to offer recreation opportunities.

Because there is very little over wash along these barrier islands, some species of shorebirds are challenged by the inability to access food sources in the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary.  Also, the lack of over wash and abundance of vegetative cover means fledglings are easy targets for predators, like opossums, raccoons and coyotes. Climate change, sea level rise, extreme weather conditions, and coastal dynamics have impacts on nesting success. Human disturbance increases the risk of abandoned nests, and injured or destroyed wildlife.

Turtles boiling out of a nest. Photo credit: National Park Service

The scientists who study shore birds and sea turtles are concerned about the loss of marsh, hardening shore lines, development, increased predation, strong energy at narrow beaches, human activity in available habitat, compacted nesting substrata, lights, pollutants, handling mortality, beach re-nourishment and nesting on dredge islands. Their findings will provide park resource managers and volunteers with information they need to better address these concerns and develop appropriate habitat, nesting, and migrating conditions.

Gaps in research were also identified. A written report will be developed which will include an independent review of the science. The report will be completed in early winter 2016 and published in the American Ornithological Society Report in summer 2017.  By considering this research and predicting future changes to the seashore, the park service can manage the Seashore to improve habitat and restore natural processes where possible for the next generation.

Read more: 

Piping Plover Biology, Monitoring, and Management

Colonial Waterbirds Nesting Season

Population Limitations

Beach Driving and Sea Turtles

Barrier Island Habitat- Sea Level Rise and Storms

NPS Research Activities

NPS Visitor Use and Management

Biology and Conservation of American Oystercatchers

Status of Nesting Wildlife at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Piping Plover Demography and Condition Throughout the Annual Cycle

 

Emily Jones works for National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) as a Senior Program Manager in the Association’s Southeast Region. Since, 1919, the National Parks Conservation Association has been the independent, nonpartisan voice working to strengthen and protect America's favorite places. With more than a million members and supporters NPCA is the voice of America’s national parks, working to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for present and future generations.

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