At press briefing, Dare Ocean Rescue officials warn about big holes on beaches

By on May 20, 2022

Dave Elder stands in a massive hole left on the beach this week. (Town of Kill Devil Hills)

Signaling the seriousness of the problem, Dare County Ocean Rescue officials held a joint May 20 press conference at the Ocean Bay Boulevard Beach Access to spread awareness about the dangers that digging large holes in the sand can pose to beachgoers and first responders, as well as sea turtles.

“The towns have spent a great deal of time and effort making the beaches safe for beachgoers,” Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Supervisor David Elder said during the briefing. “Now we are talking about beachgoers keeping the beach safe for each other and for us as well.”

The press conference was held during the same week that two teens died in separate incidents when the holes they were digging collapsed on them – one on a New Jersey beach and the other at a Utah state park. It also comes at a time when local ocean rescue officials are observing an uptick in massive holes being dug on Outer Banks beaches.

From left, Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Supervisor David Elder, Kitty Hawk Ocean Rescue Director Cole Yeatts, Nags Head Ocean Rescue Captain Chad Motz and Kill Devil Hills Assistant Ocean Rescue Supervisor Ben Battaile. (Photo credit: Michelle Wagner)

Such sand holes and tunnels, local ocean rescue experts said, can collapse on beachgoers. They can also pose a threat to those out walking, particularly at night, who may not see the holes. Additionally, they can pose a threat to lifeguards and other first responders who are responding to emergencies on the beach in ATVs or trucks.

All of these scenarios, they asserted, can end tragically.

“I wish that [digging of sand holes] was abnormal, but it’s becoming more normalized and that’s the reason we’re doing this,” Elder said. Just this week, his ocean rescue crew responded to two deep holes that were dug and left unfilled on the beach. Those holes were estimated to be more than seven feet deep.

For his part, Kitty Hawk Ocean Rescue Director Cole Yeatts stressed the danger such holes create for first responders. “For our lifeguards who are on patrol out there and the emergency responders, such holes can delay response or even make it worse…This becomes a secondary incident where we can no longer respond and have to have people come to us because we are in a wreck due to these holes.”

Nags Head Ocean Rescue Captain Chad Motz said that as the moisture in the sand surrounding the hole dries out, the danger increases. “It becomes more unstable and there is a greater potential for collapse.”

Motz also noted the threat to the five different types of sea turtles that nest on North Carolina beaches, all of which are either on the threatened or endangered species list. The turtles can fall into the holes, get trapped and potentially die.

“Just to restate,” Motz concluded, “if you dig a hole, fill it back in and it shouldn’t be deeper than the knees of the smallest person in your group.”

Kill Devil Hills Assistant Ocean Rescue Supervisor Ben Battaile appealed to adults to supervise children and young adults when they are digging holes on the beach. “Digging holes is okay, it’s a fun pastime on America’s beaches. But we want you to do it safely. No deeper than knee deep is a safe way to dig a hole and have fun.”

“We want everyone to understand that holes are serious, and we need the public’s help,” he added. “If you see an unsafe situation on the beach, who do you call? Here in this county, we’d like you to call Dare Central Communications at 252-473-3444. This is if you see somebody in distress in the water, this is if you see somebody that maybe dove into the water, this is also if you see a collapse hazard…this can be life threatening.”





  • Denise

    Patrol the beaches regularly day and night. These ingrates are endangering the lives of others. Irresponsible, cruel behavior deserves a misdemeanor charge and a fine of 5K to start…The dumbing down of America is becoming increasingly and shockingly apparent.

    Friday, May 20 @ 5:49 pm
  • Glenn

    Our sincere thanks & gratitude to the Ocean Rescue teams up & down our beaches that every season conduct dozens if not hundreds of rescues…truly dedicated professionals. That said…the issue of the large scale unfilled holes in our beaches sounds like a broken record…every season Rescue leaders have to beg guests to please stop this dangerous behavior. Every season, we get the holes up & down our coastal areas. This newspaper recently ran a story about the Visitors Bureau desiring better behaving tourists during our seasons. I agreed with that article…we need better quality people…folks that are going to respect our ecosystems, our traffic laws, our anti-littering laws, respect our law enforcement officers. I think it’s time to play turn it up a notch…put up billboards on 158 announcing $5,000 fines to anyone not filling up a hole, run ads on the airplanes pulling the signs up & down the beaches with the same warning, put up signs at each lifeguard tower & ENFORCE it! Let’s see how that works ‘cause the polite “pretty please” approach ain’t working!

    Friday, May 20 @ 6:04 pm
  • Dave

    Why don’t they put some signs on on the beach

    Friday, May 20 @ 6:56 pm
  • Greg

    If you want to shovel sand for free please get in touch with me.

    Friday, May 20 @ 6:57 pm
  • Melissa

    Thank you for all you do to keep our beaches safe for all of us!!!

    Friday, May 20 @ 7:07 pm
  • surf123

    @Dave…There is a song appropriately called “Signs”. Here is the relevant portion
    Signs Signs
    Everywhere there’s signs
    Screwing* up the scenery
    Breaking my mind
    Do this, don’t do that
    Can’t you read the sign

    *substituted this word to keep it clean

    We do not need more signs. It will not stop anyone who wants to dig a hole and just give Karens another thing to complain about.

    Friday, May 20 @ 11:47 pm
  • John Reston

    Many municipalities have overly strict beach ordinances compared to our free-for-all, free-to-all approach. I get it and that’s a big part of the allure. We can drink, smoke and generally do whatever we want. Maybe it’s time to ask our towns to actively dissuade these folks from excavating while intoxicated (EWI)? Heck, maybe we should start a public-at-large campaign via social media to try to shame these beach burrowers to at least fill the results of their efforts before they leave. At the minimum, our towns should get together and develop a catchy slogan & sign to stem this digging?

    “Only dogs dig holes & don’t fill them. Don’t be a dog.”

    “Stop shoveling, a hole!”

    “Please refrain from digging too deeply – China is closer than you think”

    Eh, it’s a start. Take it away, KDH!

    PS – Not really understanding the need to perform pointless manual labor during vacation but I digress.

    Saturday, May 21 @ 8:48 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Personally John, I like No. 2 but I doubt it would pass muster.

    Saturday, May 21 @ 9:31 am
  • Rover

    “Only dogs dig holes & don’t fill them. Don’t be a dog.”

    Wait a minute! On behalf of O.B.D.A I object to the grievous mischaracterization of all dogs as rampant hole-diggers.
    Signed: Rover, President/CEO Outer Bark Dog Association

    PS Bark: Several members of our association have had encounters with these holes while playing fetch and they are definitely a menace and hard to climb out of even equipped with with fat long clawed paws and 4-legged drive. grrrrrrr.

    PPS Bark Bark: We have had pretty good success at training our owners to clean up after us; maybe we can teach these knuckleheads to refill their holes or even stop digging them or else! double grrrrrrrr

    Saturday, May 21 @ 10:21 am
  • Carol Castellow

    Many years ago a gentleman lost his life down on Hatteras Island when the DEEP hole collapsed when his gf was making a video and walking around the edge. The sand crushed him.

    Saturday, May 21 @ 8:24 pm
  • Steven

    Towns beaches (NH, KDH,KH and up to VA line) must be awful to visit in summer, I could not imagine being there, especially with the type of person visiting now.
    Down here beaches are mostly empty even on the big holiday weekends, tourists don’t like the five minute walk to beach.

    Sunday, May 22 @ 5:51 am
  • Sean

    I like the second post. Make it happen!
    People have to respect themselves before you will see a change in behavior.

    Sunday, May 22 @ 7:02 am
  • Kicking a dead horse

    I love how press conferences are held and articles are written up about these kinds of things, yet every week it’s a new batch of the same type of people needing to hear it. Safety awareness is hard to get out but could start online where folks go to book their rentals.

    Rip tides, unsafe waters, beach debris, digging holes, wild horses, leaving stuff on the beach over night, stopping at cross walks, picking up your trash, beach fire permits, yellow and red flag warnings, the list could go on and on.

    Every week though, it’s someone new to remind.

    Sunday, May 22 @ 7:37 am
  • Dan the Fan

    I like the one about doing manual labor on vacation… another dolt always blaming everything on a vacationer. I’m sure it could never be some local miscreant like the ones constantly destroying the park bathrooms.

    Sunday, May 22 @ 8:20 am
  • Just a mom

    It’s very likely that almost all of these holes are dug during the day…. When the person packs up and leaves the beach perhaps you could do your civic duty and fill in the hole, that is if you didn’t have the brass to suggest they do it. And even still if you point out the hazard to no avail… fill it in. I mean really the article is being posted because someone called the authorities about a hole instead of taking care of it. Is it their responsibility… no… but a duty nonetheless if it means saving the very souls (humans or dogs or horses or aliens) that might perish in it.

    Love the fun and sharp witted comments here! Can we have a picnic?

    Sunday, May 22 @ 7:57 pm