Sea turtle season is underway in Florida and that means those living along the beach need to do their part to minimize dangers to the surrounding environments.
The season lasts from May 1–October 31. Between 40,000 and 84,000 sea turtles use the state’s beaches to host their nests each summer. The creatures emerge from the waters in the middle of the night, dig a hole in the dry sand, lay their eggs, cover the hole, and then return to the water. Sea turtles have an incubation period of about 2 months.
People are being asked to shut off their lights because artificial lighting is one of the biggest threats to this process. In fact, thousands of hatchlings die each year because of it. When the baby turtles hatch, they use the light of the night sky to navigate to the water. The lights from houses may cause them to crawl away from the waters and toward the artificial illumination. This leaves the hatchlings in danger of being hit by a car, attacked by predators, or simply vulnerable to the outside elements.
Adult sea turtles are also at risk. They can become confused by the artificial light and become exhausted or dehydrated on the beach, which can lead to a female failing to lay her eggs and just return to the water.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has Sea Turtle Lighting Guidelines to give property owners living along nesting beaches general information to protect their habitats.
The guidelines lay out three Golden Rules:
- Keep It Low: Fixtures must be mounted as low as possible and bulbs must produce the lowest wattage.
- Keep It Long: Lamps/Bulbs must produce only long wavelength light — 560 nanometers or greater — which is amber, orange, or red.
- Keep It Shielded: Fixtures must be completely downward-directed and must be able to shield the bulb, lamp, or glowing lens from the beach.
Many cities along the coast ask people to shut off their lights after 9 p.m. to keep the beaches dark. They recommend homeowners see if their properties are compliant with the city’s sea turtle ordinances by standing on the beach on a moonless night and looking seaward. If you see your shadow, there is too much light behind you and you need to acquire compliant lights and fixtures.
Visitors to the beaches also need to be mindful of the nests. They are marked off and you’re asked to keep a safe distance, so as to not disturb them.
All five Florida sea turtle species are endangered or threatened. The federal Endangered Species Act lists the green, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp’s ridley turtles as endangered. The loggerhead turtle is listed as threatened. This means it is illegal to harm, harass, or kill any sea turtles, their eggs, or hatchlings.
If you’re really interested in seeing the nesting process for yourself, there are sea turtle walks. A tour guide will know the state and federal laws regarding what you can and cannot do around nesting turtles. You can sign up for a walk, but there’s no guarantee you’ll see the nesting take place.
You can do your part to protect sea turtles by keeping the beaches clean, reducing fertilizer use, not leaving fishing lines behind, and more.
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