Sea Turtle Hatchling Conservation in North Carolina

To: Secretary Michael S. Regan of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality


Re: Sea Turtles in Cape Hatteras

Date: April 23, 2018


It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive into adulthood[i]. These dismal chances of survival for a baby turtle are largely due to human activity; artificial light on the waterfront, neglected beach equipment, and other disturbances to the shoreline all play a part in preventing turtle hatchlings from reaching the surf. The Cape Hatteras Seashore beach guidelines do little to protect turtles from these threats and put the species present at risk.

This memorandum will first outline the threats facing sea turtle hatchlings at Cape Hatteras, and then describe the lack of regulations in place to protect them. We will then move on to recommend several actions that the local government can put into place, while ultimately proving that funding a social awareness campaign, in collaboration with local non-profits and beachfront home rental companies, will be most effective in ensuring the hatchlings’ survival.

Problem Analysis

There are multiple threats facing sea turtles at Cape Hatteras:

  • Artificial light pollution: Hatchlings use light cues to orient themselves toward the water to make the journey from their nest to the surf after hatching. The light on the horizon is naturally brighter over the water, so the turtles are easily directed toward the ocean. However, with artificial light from beachfront homes, shops, bonfires, and outdoor lights, the turtles may become disoriented and end up migrating away from the surf.[ii]
  • Beach equipment: Umbrellas, chairs, and toys left by tourists on the beach can be obstacles that get in the way of the hatchlings’ journey to the ocean.[iii]
  • Sand obstructions: Holes and tire tracks in the sand can be detrimental to the hatchlings’ survival; if a turtle gets stuck in a hole or a rut, it can take significant time for it to escape, leaving it vulnerable for predators.
  • Careless spectators: A hatching event is a magnificent thing to witness, however it should be viewed responsibly. Spectators disturbing the nests or hatchlings themselves with significant noise, light, or other obstructions can prevent the hatchlings from reaching the surf.


Current Policies

The current Cape Hatteras beach rules and regulations do take some environmental factors into account, but light pollution from beachfront buildings is not addressed. Current policies include:

  • Compliance with all posted signs, littering and leaving unattended property is illegal, day and night driving is permitted on nearly every beach.iv
  • Prohibition against the use of artificial light to view wildlife because of its disorienting effects on species such as sea turtles.v
  • Beach bonfires are not allowed from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. in the interest of sea turtle hatchlings and other sensitive

These current policies lack ambitious enforcement methodology and fail to consider the harmful effects of light pollution from coastal establishments.             Eighteen U.S. states have laws restricting light pollution, mainly for stargazing purposes. Florida, a primary sea turtle nesting location, has the only statewide model ordinance that was specifically designed to protect sea turtles.vii At the moment, North Carolina is not one of the eighteen states that regulates light pollution, but by looking at the success of Florida and other managed places, it is possible to create effective legislation in the interest of Cape Hatteras’ sea turtles.



  • Social Awareness Campaign:

            Generating social awareness of threats to sea turtles and how citizens can help was an effective strategy in Queensland, Australia– where a strong light pollution policy has been in place for ten years. A case study of the successful Florida policies also emphasized the importance of garnering public awareness of and support for the issue.

Based on the implications of these success stories, we believe that a social campaign aimed at raising awareness for the threats the turtles face would be beneficial, since many of these threats come from unaware tourists visiting the Cape Hatteras beaches. Organizations like the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T) in Cape Hatteras can use government funding to implement awareness projects in the community. This could include:

  • Brochures and flyers in beachfront rental homes describing the effects of light pollution on turtles and urging visitors to close their blinds at night and turn off outdoor lights
  • Signs on the beach warning of the hazards that neglected beach equipment and bonfires can cause for hatchlings
  • Noticeable signage around nests warning visitors to stay away
  • Light Pollution Fee:

Of equal effectiveness in the Queensland case was the appeal to those citizens who value economics over the environment; people were convinced to comply with light reduction policies on the economic grounds that using fewer lights at night helps save money on electricity bills.

            Economic incentives could also prove successful among Cape Hatteras’ residents. Therefore, in this recommendation, beachfront residents would pay a small fee for keeping outdoor lights on after sunset during hatching season.


Solution Analysis

Attached in the appendix of this memorandum is a matrix table displaying an analysis of each recommendation we have proposed. The recommendations are judged on a five-criterion system and are given a score on a scale from 1 to 3, 1 meaning it does not fit the criterion and 3 meaning it does. A score of 2 means that some aspects of the plan may fit the criterion but does not encompass it entirely. The criteria are:

  • Criterion A: Economic feasibility
    • Is the solution economically feasible to be implemented?
      • Though we believe the hatchlings’ lives to be of the utmost importance, the solution does need to be economically viable. In other words, it should not cost the city or its citizens inordinate amounts of money to implement.
    • Criterion B: Social acceptability
      • Will the residents and vendors in the area accept the change with ease?
        • Since this issue requires cooperation from the Cape Hatteras citizens in order for it to be effective, it should be able to be implemented with ease. Any course of action that provokes backlash from the community could cause larger issues in the long term.
      • Criterion C: Timeliness
        • Will the project be able to be implemented in a timely and efficient manner?
          • The turtles’ lives are at stake, and each moment wasted is a direct risk to their livelihood. The solution should be implemented swiftly and efficiently to protect the hatchlings.
        • Criterion D: Morality
          • Does the project reflect positive moral guidelines for the community?
            • This project should be in line with the community’s morals and should inspire positive change among citizens. Environmental activists should serve as role models for the community, not antagonists.
          • Criterion E: Effectiveness
            • Does the project effectively help the sea turtle hatchlings against threats?
              • This is perhaps the most important criterion; the solution should tackle the multitude of risks threatening hatchlings and should fix them efficiently.


Based on our analysis, a social campaign will be the most effective in helping the sea turtle hatchlings against the threats we have outlined. While a light pollution fee would help decrease artificial light that disorients the hatchlings, it does not encompass the entirety of threats present and will most likely not be easily accepted by the Cape Hatteras community. A social awareness campaign, increasing signage, spreading information about the hatchlings, and changing the language in listed beach regulations to emphasize the risks of artificial light and neglected beach equipment, would be more effective to combat the issues at hand. This will help tourists and residents understand the threats that they pose to the hatchlings, and though it does rely on these individuals to choose to follow these guidelines, they are far more likely to do their part to protect the turtles if they have an understanding on the nesting system. Furthermore, there are organizations in the community that, if provided adequate funding, would be able to implement these actions, such as N.E.S.T. Cape Hatteras.

The sea turtle species present at Cape Hatteras are essential members of the aquatic ecosystem, yet most of the time they perish before even getting a chance to reach their home and thrive. These hatchlings depend on the cooperation of the community to ensure their survival, as mankind is the greatest threat they have faced. We hope you take the time to review these risks and our recommendations and will act to protect the species present at the Cape Hatteras seashore.


On our honor we have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, we have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and we are unaware of any violation of the Honor Code by others.



Solution Analysis Table

Economic Feasibility Social Acceptability Timeliness Morality Effectiveness Weighted Score
Criteria Weight 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2
No change 3 2 3 1 1 2
Social Awareness Campaign  












Light Pollution Fee  















Kamrowski, Ruth L., Stephen G. Sutton, Renae C. Tobin, and Mark Hamann. 2014. “Potential Applicability of Persuasive Communication to Light-Glow Reduction Efforts: A Case Study of Marine Turtle Conservation.” Environmental Management; New York 54(3): 583–95.

Kamrowski, Ruth L., Stephen G. Sutton, Renae C. Tobin, and Mark Hamann. 2015. “Balancing Artificial Light at Night with Turtle Conservation? Coastal Community Engagement with Light-Glow Reduction.” Environmental Conservation; Cambridge 42(2): 171–81.

Kelly, Terra R. et al. 2015. “Clinical Pathology Reference Intervals for an In-Water Population of Juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta Caretta) in Core Sound, North Carolina, USA: E0115739.” PLoS ONE 10(3). (February 8, 2018).

“Laws & Policies – Cape Hatteras National Seashore” National Parks Service. (February 28, 2018).

Martin, R. Erik, Blair E. Witherington. 2000. “Understanding, Assessing, and Resolving Light-Pollution Problems on Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches.” Florida Marine Research Institute Technical Report TR-2. 74 p. (February 5, 2018).

National Research Council Staff. 1989. Decline of the Sea Turtles: Causes and Prevention. Washington, United States: National Academies Press. (February 6, 2018).

“Outer Banks Beach Guidelines” Outer Banks Visitors Guide. (February 7, 2018).

“Sea Turtles – Cape Hatteras National Seashore (U.S. National Park Service).” (February 6, 2018).

Spotila, James. 2004. Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

“States Shut Out Light Pollution.” National Conference of State Legislatures.  (February 8, 2018).


i “Baby Turtles,” SEE Turtles, accessed March 24, 2018,

ii “Sea Turtles,” National Parks Service, accessed March 24, 2018,

iii “Sea Turtles,” National Parks Service, accessed March 24, 2018,

iv “Outer Banks Beach Guidelines,” Outer Banks Visitor’s Guide, accessed February 7, 2018,

v “Laws & Policies – Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” National Parks Service, accessed February 28th, 2018,

vi “Laws & Policies – Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” National Parks Service, accessed February 28th, 2018,

vii “States Shut Out Light Pollution,” National Conference of State Legislatures, accessed February 8th, 2018,

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