Impact of off-road vehicles (ORVs) on ghost crabs of sandy beaches with traffic restrictions: a case study of Sodwana Bay, South Africa
Van der Merwe, Peet
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Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are popular in coastal recreation, although they have negative impacts on sandy shores. In South Africa, ORVs are banned from most coastal areas, while some areas are designated for restricted ORV use, providing an opportunity to assess whether ORV traffic restrictions translate into biological returns. In Sodwana Bay, the impact of ORVs on ghost crab populations was investigated. During Easter 2012, ghost crab burrows were counted on beach sections open and closed to traffic. Burrow density in the Impact section was less than a third that of the Reference section, and by the end of the study burrow size in the Impact section was half that of the Reference section. ORV traffic caused a shift in burrow distribution to the Lower beach. However, differences in burrow densities between sections were 14 times smaller than differences obtained at a time when ORV use in Sodwana Bay was not controlled. While confirming the well-established detrimental effects of ORV use on sandy beach ecosystems, results demonstrated that traffic restrictions on beaches measurably minimize impacts to the fauna, thus translating into clear-cut biological returns.