Hatteras, N.C. — Fifty more meters of beach in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are off limits to people after park rangers found vandalism to signs that mark off buffer zones set aside for certain breeding birds and turtles.
A park ranger on patrol discovered that 12 posts with "Area Closed" signs had been broken at ground level and that several closure markers had been pulled out at the shoreline. The signs marked an area that had been established to protect a tern colony, approximately 1.7 miles east of Ramp 49.
Under a consent decree that settled a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, the act of vandalism required park officials to expand the closure area by 50 meters to the west.
"I urge everyone to consider that future acts of intentional vandalism to resource-protection areas will result in greater expansion of the buffers," park superintendent Mike Murray said. "These expansions are not discretionary under the consent decree."
Rangers found two sets of footprints along the edge of the fence that extended from dunes to ocean. No footprints or tire tracks went into the actual closure area.
No tern birds appeared to have been disturbed by the vandalism, park officials said.
The lawsuit settlement requires the National Park Service to establish wide buffer zones to keep out vehicular and foot traffic when piping plovers, American oyster catchers and other seabirds are nesting or breeding. It also bans driving after 10 p.m. from spring through fall to protect turtles.
The first beach closures required by the consent decree started on May 5.
Area leaders argued that such restrictions will hurt the area's tourism-dependent economy. Some business owners said they have already seen a downturn due to the restrictions.