Florida’s coastline has become increasingly developed over the past century introducing a new threat to sea turtles. Artificial lighting is a major concern for these creatures, especially since hotels, condominiums and houses have come to tower much of the coast in South Florida. Since female sea turtles prefer nesting at night, the presence of artificial lighting can deter these animals from constructing a nest. Oftentimes, a sea turtle will emerge from the water in a highly lighted area, but fail to nest resulting in a false crawl. After several failed false crawls, sea turtle mothers resort to releasing their eggs in the ocean or choosing an inferior location to build their nest and lay eggs. Both of these scenarios significantly reduce the chance of survival for sea turtle hatchlings, which is already extremely low.
Additionally, artificial lighting can impact hatchlings. Once out of their shell, baby sea turtles are believed to possess a natural instinct to travel towards the brightest horizon. On a typical undeveloped beach this tends to be toward the moonlight reflecting off of the vast ocean’s surface as coastal dunes and vegetation create dark silhouettes landward. Today, the brightest area is usually in the opposite direction, towards the lighted structures lining the developed beach. Therefore, newborn sea turtles may travel away from the water wasting energy and possibly never reaching the ocean. Furthermore, these disoriented newborns are exposed to new threats including: dehydration, predation, exhaustion, drowning in nearby swimming pools and fatal contact with automobiles.
To some people light pollution along the coast may seem like a difficult obstacle to overcome. However, it is estimated that roughly 1/3 of lighting is wasted throughout the United States due to various reasons (Sea Turtle Conservancy, 2014). This wasted lighting uses a substantial amount of energy each year- around 30 million barrels of oil and two million tons of coal, adding up to roughly two billion dollars annually. Lighting retrofits can create a sustainable environment for sea turtles while simultaneously conserving energy.
In order to combat excess artificial lighting pollution along the beaches of Florida, Broward County modified its Land Use Plan in 1996 to initiate The Broward County Beach Lighting Management Plan. Every coastal municipality within the County was required to enact and enforce a lighting ordinance requiring people to turn off beachfront lighting during the sea turtle nesting season. The Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation program conducts beach lighting surveys at night, starting from March thru September in order to list and track lighted properties by street address. These surveys include type of visibility (direct or indirect), location of lights on property, and photo documentation of lights. All property lights visible from the beach are documented and provided to respective code enforcement officers.
If you or someone you know currently resides on a beachfront property, there are several simple measures you can take to substantially lessen the impact of artificial lighting on sea turtles:
- Install low pressure sodium vapor lights (LPS) rather than normal lights
- Turn off lights visible from nesting beaches or install special fixtures to shield lights from the beach
- Call local law enforcement or the Sea Turtle Emergency Line 954-328-0580 if disoriented sea turtle hatchlings are found away or heading away from the beach
- Purchase Turtle Safe Lighting- red lights that give off a far less portion of the light spectrum and are less impactful on nesting sea turtles and hatchlings
- This Dark Sky website will help you locate your new sea turtle friendly fixture or bulbs.
- Cover windows visible to the beach after the sun sets with opaque curtains or blinds
- Tint beach facing windows
Please contact 954-519-1255 if you have specific questions on municipal Lighting Ordinances within the County or if you are seeking technical assistance for fixture or bulb retrofits.
Artificial lighting is currently one of the most prominent threats to sea turtles’ existence. In the future, light pollution could increasingly affect nesting sea turtles and hatchlings, unless a greater effort is exerted by local communities. As the coastline of Florida will continue to develop, it is important for everyone to make these minor changes in order to reduce human impact on the natural environment.