Originally created 07/31/98

Panel considers limits for driving on beaches



BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Environmentalists and representatives from some of Georgia's barrier islands hope to decide by October how cars and turtles can peacefully coexist on Georgia's beaches.

Duane Harris, director of the Coastal Georgia Division for the Department of Natural Resources, expects to begin drafting a beach driving regulation after the group's next meeting in August.

Concerns have risen about cars on beaches where sea turtles lay eggs. Some nests have been squashed by drivers, Mr. Harris said.

"Very few have been driven over, but any nest destroyed is something we didn't want to happen," he said Thursday.

The DNR appointed a nine-member committee in the spring to come up with a plan after protests and a lawsuit by environmental groups opposing a decision to allow island residents to drive on the beach. The agency reversed the decision in March.

For now, the DNR isn't ticketing anyone who drives on coastal beaches under state jurisdiction.

Residents on Cumberland Island, which has the most drivers, are voluntarily putting limits on beach drives, Mr. Harris said. They aren't driving at night during the nesting season and are driving on wet sand, where turtles do not nest.

During the panel's first-ever meeting Wednesday, Mr. Harris said members heard about the driving situations on various Georgia islands.

"There's not a lot of driving on any of them," he said. "On St. Catherine's Island ... park officials drive on the island to monitor sea turtles and for law enforcement. This is an island where sometimes, there's only five humans on it."