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#06-173 July 3, 2006

Beach vitex may threaten sea turtle hatchlings

Beach vitex on Carolina beaches is altering sea turtle nesting habitat and may be costing the lives of newly emerged sea turtle hatchlings.

Hatchlings have become trapped in the thick tangle of vegetation on the Isle of Palms, which can exhaust them and lead to their death before ever reaching the ocean.

Find out more about beach vitex at the Carolinas Beach Vitex Task Force Web site: http://www.beachvitex.org/. Find out more about sea turtles at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Marine Turtle Conservation Program Web site at http://www.dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle/. Report any suspected beach vitex locations by contacting task force coordinator Betsy Brabson at (843) 546-9531.

A deciduous woody vine native to Korea and other countries in the western Pacific, beach vitex wasVitex in bloom introduced to the Southeastern United States in the mid-1980s for use as an ornamental and also for beach stabilization. By the mid-1990s, plant specialists began to notice beach vitex spreading from original plantings on Carolina beaches, crowding out native dune plants and altering sea turtle nesting habitat.

In areas where beach vitex has been found, native plants are being choked out. Sea oats, beach panic grasses and the federally threatened seabeach amaranth cannot compete with the fast growing “kudzu of the beach.”

Beach vitex lacks the fibrous root system like the native plants of Carolina beaches and thus, lacks the ability to trap sand adequately. As beach vitex dies back each winter, the root systems can be found exposed where the beach has literally eroded from underneath the plant, further jeopardizing Carolina beaches.

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