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:
- Turn off unnecessary lights that are visible from nesting beaches.
- If lights are deemed necessary for safety, use fixtures that are shielded so they cannot be seen from the beach.
- Apply window tint or install tinted glass on beach-facing windows.
- Close curtains or blinds at night.
- Use certified “turtle-friendly” lights that are red or amber in color; these lights are much less disruptive to sea turtles. Visit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website for more information on turtle-friendly fixtures and bulbs.
- Call local law enforcement or the BCSTCP Emergency Line at 954-328-0580 if disoriented sea turtle hatchlings are found away from the beach.
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.