Wildlife Protection Zone FAQs

Why does the park implement temporary wildlife protection zones?

Temporary protection zones are put into place to protect a variety of nesting colonial shore birds as well as sea turtle nests. The park is required under the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Federal Migratory Bird Act to protect these species. A wildlife protection zone protects these endangered species while still allowing people to drive on most of the beach.

Why are protection zones for birds necessary?

Human activity can cause adult birds to abandon their nests. In addition, the nests of shore birds are very difficult to see and avoid and when young chicks are threatened, they hide by staying perfectly still and blending in with the sand. Closing an area to humans and vehicles prevents nest abandonment, the eggs from being crushed in the nest, or young chicks from being run over.

Find more information on the Piping Plover webpage.

Why are the sea turtle protection zones necessary?

Driving on the beach creates deep tire ruts in the sand. A sea turtle hatchling is very small and may become trapped in a tire rut as they head down the beach towards the ocean. Sea turtle hatchlings unable to get out of the tire rut will die from predation or dehydration. Protection zones are put up approximately ten days before the nests are expected to hatch so that the beach can smooth out naturally.

When do temporary wildlife protection zones generally occur?

Protection zones for bird nesting occur from April to August. Protection zones for sea turtle nesting occur from July to October.

How are the protection zone areas selected?

A bird protection zone area is selected based on where the birds are nesting, how many nesting pairs are in the area, and the age and activity of the chicks. Turtle protection zone areas are selected based on where the turtles nest. Park staff work to restrict access to as small an area and for as short a period of time as is absolutely critical for the protection of the nests, young chicks, and turtle hatchlings.

How long are the protection zones in place?

Bird protection zones are in place from the time that nesting begins until the chicks are able to fly. It takes 25-35 days from the time the eggs are laid for them to hatch. Once the eggs hatch it will take around another 30 days until the chicks are able to fly. Turtle protection zones stay up for ten to fifteen days, depending on when the eggs hatch.

Why don't all protection zones affect beach travel?

Nesting areas are often on the upper beach out of the way of vehicle traffic. Once the eggs have hatched, the young chicks wander away from the nesting area looking for food along the sound or ocean beach, or near tide pools. At this time protection zones may need to be expanded to allow them to safely feed until they are old enough to fly. To keep turtle hatchlings from getting stuck in tire ruts, a protection zone is established on the beach in front of a turtle nest shortly before the nest is due to hatch.

Vehicle traffic is only affected in those areas where the chicks are feeding along the ocean beach or where turtle nests are within two weeks of hatching.

Can I walk through a protection zone?

The signs marking the protection zone will specify if you can walk through or if it is closed to all entry. Be sure to read and follow the sign directions! For more information on beach signs, visit the Beach Signs webpage.

What species nest along the beaches of Cape Lookout National Seashore?

  • Wilson's Plover
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle
  • Green Sea Turtle
  • Leatherback Sea Turtle
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Least Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Gull-billed Tern
  • Black Skimmer
  • Willet

Where can I learn more about the nesting success of these species?

Annual reports for bird counts, nesting success, endangered plant species, and Shackleford horses can be found on the Wildlife Management page.

Last updated: January 27, 2017

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Harkers Island, NC 28531


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