Many visitors who frequent Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge this time of year will not be surprised to hear about temporary beach closures that occur seasonally within the Off Road Vehicle (ORV) zone. It’s actually another sign that summer has arrived, marking the beginning of the high tourist and another busy nesting season.
Off-road vehicle use is allowed on a small section of the southern end of Assateague Island for visitors who have obtained the proper permits. This enhances their ability to participate in surf fishing, which is an increasingly popular activity on the refuge. The incremental closure of public access to this small area is necessary to protect the piping plover and other migratory shorebirds. However, in the fall, the beach will reopen to public access after all young birds are able to fly.
According to refuge Manager Lou Hinds, “The needs of wildlife come first on all wildlife refuges. On Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, piping plover management dictates that we protect these threatened shorebirds during the breeding season.”
The Hook and Overwash areas of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge abound with prime sites for a variety of beach nesters. Currently there are approximately 18 pairs of piping plovers, a species listed as threatened since 1986, 14 pairs of American oystercatchers and nesting colonies of foresters and least terns as well as black skimmers. Shorebirds such as red knots, ruddy turnstones, and a variety of sandpipers use this area as a critical feeding and staging area during their long distance migrations.
Other wildlife species also need access to undisturbed shoreline in order to survive. In recent years, an increase in sea turtle nesting has also been noted in these areas.