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Study of Cape Cod Seashore finds off-road vehicles harmful to beach fauna

g out in immature stages, so they hang out and feed under the wrack," Steinback said. But when vehicles drive over the wrack, their tires break up the vegetation, which makes it dry out. "That changes the abundance and diversity of species on the beach."

Steinback noted that the beach ecosystem is very variable because environmental conditions change from day to day. As a result, species composition changes daily as well.

"The important thing is that the Park Service is doing a good job of protecting most of the species diversity by limiting where people can drive and encouraging them to stay away from the wrack. If you protect the wrack, you protect many of the species, especially those that spend part of their life burrowed in the bare sand behind the wrack where vehicles are instructed to drive," she said.

Steinback suggests that one step the Park Service might take to further protect beach fauna is to close beaches to traffic on an alternating schedule, rather than close some beaches for the entire season and open others.

"Maybe by alternating closures at various beaches, there wouldn't be such a consistent negative impact on the beaches where traffic is allowed," she said. "The species are flexible and move around a great deal, so by regularly opening and closing the beaches to traffic, the impact may not be as great.

"This is an environment that few people study, so there are still lots of questions," she concluded. "Off-road vehicles are having a tremendous impact on many natural communities, but on these beaches they haven't yet caused long-term damage that can't be remedied."


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Contact: Todd McLeish
tmcleish@uri.edu
401-874-7892
University of Rhode Island
20-May-2004


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