The biggest eyesore on the beach after sundown are the numerous pop up shade structure skeletons, left by the day’s beach dwellers on vacation. I am guessing they have every intention of returning to that same exact spot on the sand the next day. This wasn’t an issue for me until I read about how these structures are now so numerous, that they are potential barriers for egg laying sea turtles.
The female sea turtle swims to shore and makes her way across the sand after dark. She is looking for the perfect spot to dig a nice deep hole, so she can lay her clutch of eggs for incubation. Over the following months the eggs develop under the warm protection of the summer sun and in the late summer and early fall months, these babies hatch and dig their way to the surface. On tiny legs they march to the lapping waves and swim beneath the ocean’s surface to become full fledged sea turtles.
When a female is making her way across the sand at night, she isn’t really expecting to hit many obstacles. Imagine her shock and surprise when her head comes into full contact with a steel leg of a shade structure. I’m sure her first thought is that it’s a predator and the fear for her life and the life of her eggs causes her to turn and make her way, as quickly as a turtle that size can, back to the safety of the ocean that she knows so well. Sometimes she might resurface further down the beach and lay her eggs with no more drama, but what about the turtles that keep running into shade structures?
What about the sea turtles that become so fearful that they never come back to the beach and instead of laying the eggs in a nice sandy hole, they dispel their eggs into the sea, never to be born?
Is this an evolution we are looking forward to?
Is keeping your spot on the beach overnight really worth this price?
Is your day at the beach going to be ruined if, at sundown, when you are ready to return to your cottage for dinner and nibbles, you have to spend an extra ten minutes to fold up that shade structure and take it with you?
I posted about this in a popular Facebook group for locals and tourists on the OBX and someone argued with me that a turtle running into a shade structure left overnight was no different than if she ran into a piece of driftwood or a shell. I could not believe the insensitivity or the ignorance. Did they honestly believe the turtle wouldn’t know the difference? Because I can tell you that she does know the difference between something she encounters daily, and something she does not encounter ever.
I went out to my favorite Public Access on the beach this past summer and counted over seven shade structures being enjoyed by locals and visitors on a hot sunny day. I trekked out to each shade structure and asked them if they left the shade structure skeleton up all night. When some of the people told me they did, I told them the problem this caused for our sea life. I also added that anyone wanting to enjoy the beach during sundown, or even after dark, would run into their structures as well. What if one of the beachfront cottages caught fire and the only way to reach it was by using the beach access? Could Emergency Vehicles make their way around your shade structure to save someone’s life? Should they be expected to navigate an obstacle course of shade structure skeletons?
Everyone promised me they would take down their structures that night and take them home with them.
Before leaving the beach that day I visited the Lifeguard on duty there and asked him if he would remind them to take their structures home with them. He said he would, but he doubted anyone would listen to him. He had been trying all summer long to remind people to remove their shade structures at the end of the beach day and most people just ignored him. In fact, that same day, a family of visitors had erected their shade structures and ziptied them together, right in front of his Lifeguard stand and it blocked his view of the water. He asked them to please move and they ignored him.
The Lifeguard told me that anything left on the beach after 5pm was considered litter and by all rights, anyone can claim it and remove it. This might be true within the Ocean Rescue Department, but it is not true in the local police department. It seems each official government office has their own interpretation of how this particular incident is regulated.
Addendum: When this article was written three years ago the new regulation did not exist. Today, thanks to the continued efforts of many concerned locals, a new ordinance exists that demands the beaches in Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head be cleared at sunset.
I went back to this Public Beach Access to see how many people actually listened to me that day, and took down their structures.
I was disappointed to count five shade structure skeletons, still standing on the beach.
It would be great if next summer we could mobilize and have a team ready for each Public Access once high season kicks off to educate anyone that has a shade structure about the good reasons for dismantling it and taking it home at the end of each day. Hopefully if they are asked enough times, they’ll start taking down their shade structures without being reminded. Eventually our message will be heard and heeded, but until then we can all work towards having the same ordinance they have in the Northern beaches where shade structures are never left on the beach overnight.
I can see it now…The Popup Patrol Rides Again!