Exposure of Fauna to Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Traffic on Sandy Beaches
Driving of off-road vehicles (ORVs) on sandy beaches is common and widespread, but is not universally embraced due to putative environmental impacts on beach biota. For ORVs to impact the beach fauna, traffic areas must overlap with faunal habitat: a fundamental pre-requisite for impact assessments but as yet un-quantified for sandy beaches. Thus, this study quantified the spatial and temporal patterns of ORV traffic on five Australian beaches, and measured the degree to which the distribution of intertidal macro-invertebrates overlaps with traffic zones. Traffic volumes on beaches can be considerable (up to 500 vehicles per day). The position of beach traffic across the beach-face is principally governed by tides and driver behavior. Despite driver education campaigns to the contrary, a considerable fraction of vehicles (16-67%) traverses the soft, upper shore near the foredunes. The majority (65%) of burrowing invertebrate species of the intertidal zone is directly exposed to traffic, save for species inhabiting the swash zone. Because beach traffic presents a formidable management challenge, a fundamental first step in identifying whether ecological impacts are indeed likely, is to assess the potential for spatial and temporal conflict between human pressures (e.g., ORVs) and biological resources (e.g., beach fauna). Although this potential is certainly substantial for sandy shores used by ORVs, the actual ecological impacts on the intertidal fauna can only be predicted in situations where the responses (e.g., direct mortality, behavioral changes) of individual species to beach traffic are known.
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