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Why were the trash cans removed from the beach at Fort Fisher?

Ken Little
StarNews
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Birds line the shore at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. (StarNews file photo)

The trash cans were removed in 2007 from the four-wheel-drive section of the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area to lessen the threat of predators to rare loggerhead sea turtles and nesting shore birds, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation spokesman Charlie Peek said.

There are still trash receptacles in the pedestrian beach area.

Trash receptacles were removed from the four-mile section of beach used by four-wheel-drive vehicles. 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, Peek said.

Park officials found that 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,” former park superintendent Matt Windsor said in a 2007 news release.

“Fort Fisher had almost a complete failure of water bird and shore bird nests (in 2007) due to predators. And, nearly all the park’s sea turtle nests were dug into by red fox with many eggs and hatchlings lost,” Windsor said in the release.

Emptying trash receptacles in the evenings did not solve the problem since visitors used the four-wheel-drive beach area 24 hours a day at the time, park officials 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 bags that will be needed during their visit.

“Frankly, we were a bit apprehensive about trying this, but for the most part, the park’s visitors have accepted the practice very well once they know the reason for it. In 2010, we adopted the practice for all of Bear Island at Hammocks Beach State Park and it was received very well there as well,” Peek said.

State parks officials said 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 trash receptacles animal-proof.

  • View Fort Fisher State Recreation Area in a larger map

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