Beach-goers on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore will have to settle for an evening stroll near the waves instead of a drive for the next five months. Today begins nighttime restrictions on off-road vehicle access to those beaches. May through September is the prime nesting time for sea turtles.
Park Service spokeswoman Cyndi Holda said one reason for the temporary ban is that lights from the vehicles can distract the hatchlings on their journey out to sea.
"They've been known to come up behind beach cottages because of lighting on the back porch," said Holda. "And when the sea turtles hatch, they run towards the light instead of running towards the ocean. So there's problems associated when the sea turtles begin hatching of lights that are not the ambient light of the surf zone."
Holda said federal law mandates that the sea turtles be protected from dangers such as trucks and other vehicles.
"We just restrict the night driving on the beaches to protect them as much as possible so that they can lay their eggs and come ashore. It takes them quite a while. It's a long process," she said.
The beaches will not be completely off limits. Beach-goers can come out at any hour -- but only on foot at night. Night driving privileges will be reinstated from mid-September to mid-November once the prime nesting period ends.