In an effort to lessen the threat of predators to rare loggerhead sea turtles and nesting shore birds, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area in New Hanover County has established a “trash-free zone” throughout its four-wheel-drive beach access area.
Trash receptacles have been removed from the four-mile section of beach. And, sportsmen and hikers must instead dispose of all trash at an animal-proof, central collection point at the entrance to the four-wheel-drive access area.
“We’ve found that the picnic and fish scraps and unused bait in trash receptacles attract predators, especially red fox, which linger to prey on shore bird and turtle nests,” said Park Superintendent Matt Windsor. “Fort Fisher had almost a complete failure of water bird and shore bird nests this year due to predators. And, nearly all the park’s sea turtle nests were dug into by red fox with many eggs and hatchlings lost.”
Emptying trash receptacles in the evenings did not solve the problem since visitors use the four-wheel-drive beach area 24 hours a day, Windsor said.
Red fox were brought to the southeastern states from Europe and have no natural predators on the barrier islands. Fox, raccoons and gulls often associate people with food sources and have little natural fear of humans, according to biologists consulted by the park officials.
Park visitors are asked to stop at an honor system box at the entrance to the four-wheel-drive beach access to get a trash bag and return it to the collection point upon leaving. To conserve resources, visitors are asked to take only what bags will be needed during their visit.
Visitors can do more to help the rare and endangered species that make Fort Fisher State Recreation Area unique:
• Don’t leave bait, food or scrap fish on the beach or bury it in the sand.
• Return unwanted fish to the ocean.
• Don’t feed wildlife. The practice is unhealthy for the wildlife and dangerous to humans and pets. And, it gives predators such as fox and raccoons an unfair advantage over other species.
• At home, protect native wildlife species by making your trash receptacles animal-proof.