The July Fourth party at Masonboro Island was a major topic of discussion during a regular meeting of the Masonboro Island Local Advisory Committee on March 11 at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Marine Science.
“Every year, the town of Wrightsville Beach and New Hanover County are investing ridiculous amounts of money to try to keep these kids from killing themselves,” said Hope Sutton, southern sites manager for the North Carolina Coastal Reserve.
While the Independence Day party has become infamous for the mess it leaves behind, Sutton insisted she is much more concerned about safety issues than trash, pointing out that in 2012, 131 people were treated for injuries received as a result of the festivities.
Haywood Newkirk, president of the Klontz Newkirk Real Estate Group and LAC member, recalled seeing one young man badly lacerate his calf muscle on a boat propeller while drunkenly trying to board the vessel.
“With the alcohol thinning out his blood,” Newkirk said, “he could have bled out on the boat ride back. I’m really surprised no one has died at that party yet.”
One of the largest concerns faced by law enforcement in their attempts to curb the party is a lack of manpower.
“[The Fourth of July] is the biggest day of the year for officers in all of the coastal counties,” Sutton said. Law enforcement officials may look to make up for this by changing their approach on Masonboro Island this summer, she added. While in the past, more warnings have been issued than citations, this summer’s party may see the opposite.
Other options being explored are the possibility of bringing in Alcohol Law Enforcement officers, and requesting additional help from the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard’s help is especially needed in stopping boat drivers from ferrying partygoers to Masonboro Island from the mainland without a captain’s license. Because laws regarding captain’s licenses are federal, local law enforcement can ask boat drivers to produce their license at the dock, but only the Coast Guard can enforce the laws. But a Coast Guard officer must actually witness money trade hands, something many unlicensed captains have become good at keeping out of sight. The biggest problem comes when people want to leave the island after a long day of drinking.
“It’s when the sun starts to go down and people start trying to figure out how they’re going to get off the island that the fights start,” Newkirk said.
A major worry is that drunk people will try to swim back.
Sutton said she will continue to work with law enforcement to find an effective way to control the problem in the months leading up to July Fourth.
Another focal point of conversation was the results of red fox removal efforts conducted last month.
Professional predator removal services were secured using a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in accordance with the national sea turtle recovery plan.
The plan recommends some kind of predator removal when the predation rate on sea turtle nests rises above 10 percent. Past years have seen predation rates in excess of 60 percent on sea turtle nests at Masonboro Island.
Prior to predator removal efforts, Sutton said she could not find anyone willing to take an “off the cuff” estimate as to how many red foxes were living on Masonboro Island, as there is no reliable multiplier regarding fox-to-den ratio.
During the two-week process, three red foxes were euthenized, but tracking efforts in the following weeks turned up fresh red fox tracks.