Lights Out! Help protect our nesting and hatchling sea turtles.
By Katie King
Who doesn’t love a moonlit stroll along the beach?
While the crowds may be smaller once the sun goes down, our beaches are still extremely active after dark! For our nocturnal wildlife, naturally dark beaches are important for their survival.
And dark beaches are especially important for sea turtles. Four species of sea turtle nest on local beaches and three nest at night, including the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, which makes up 90% of local nests.
Female sea turtles look for dark, quiet beaches to lay their eggs. Too many lights or too much movement on the beach can scare the female away, forcing her to waste previous energy searching for a new nesting site. If a female has too many failed nesting attempts, she may lose her eggs in the ocean.
And even after a successful nesting, bright lights on or near the beach can disorient her, leading her away from the Gulf of Mexico. This is true for hatchling turtles too.
Sea turtles use the light of the moon and stars to find the Gulf of Mexico after hatching or nesting. This celestial light reflects off the water, creating a bright horizon, while the beach remains dark. Sea turtles aim for this bright spot to find the Gulf.
But modern artificial lights are far brighter than the moon and stars. The white light put out by cell phones, flashlights and buildings creates a confusing landscape. Sea turtles will instinctually head towards the brightest light source, which often leads them away from the water and into backyards, parking lots and busy roadways. Hatchling turtles that don’t make it into the water quickly are vulnerable to predation, dehydration, and starvation. Adult turtles can also become dehydrated and injured if they spend too long on the beach, especially once the sun rises.
But you can help! If you’re planning to visit the beach after dark, leave the white lights at home. NO light is the best light, but a red flashlight is a good alternative to white light. Or covert your cell phone or flashlight to a red light with the use of brake tape, a red balloon or special red filters.
When staying on the beach, remember to turn off beach-facing lights when not is use and close curtains and blinds after dark. If you own beachfront property, consider retrofitting your exterior lights to a turtle-friendly alternative.
For more information about sea turtles and sea turtle friendly lighting visit www.myescambia.com/seaturtles.
If you see a sea turtle nesting on the beach, remember to stay back at least 30 feet and turn off all lights (even red ones). Don’t touch or approach her; egg laying is hard work! Let her finish nesting and return to the ocean on her own, we promise she knows what she’s doing.
If you encounter sea turtle hatchlings or an injured turtle call Escambia County Marine Resources at (850) 426-1257 or the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-403-3922.