How Artificial Lighting Affects Sea Turtles
Beaches are now filled with houses, hotels and condo units. Sea turtles have to compete with people for the use of these beaches. Lights from these buildings can discourage female turtles from nesting. If they fail to nest after several false crawls, they will deposit their eggs in the ocean or in less-than-optimal nesting areas. This reduces the hatchlings’ rate of survival. Hatchlings have a natural instinct to move in the brightest direction, which is usually the moonlight reflected by the ocean.
They also tend to avoid darkly silhouetted objects associated with vegetation and dune profile. This behavior occurs during any position or phase of the moon, which means that hatchlings don’t rely on lunar light to find their way to the sea. However, artificial lighting can cause hatchlings to become confused and wander inland, where they may be run over, be eaten or die of predation or dehydration.
How to Save Sea Turtles from Artificial Lighting
The first step to protecting sea turtles from light pollution is reducing the amount of artificial lighting that’s visible from nesting beaches. The effects of artificial light on sea turtles may increase as natural light levels decrease during moonless nights. Since any visible artificial light can cause problems for sea turtles, the most effective tool to use when determining problem lighting is the human observer’s eyes. Any artificial source of light that’s visible from the beach will cause problems for sea turtles and hatchlings. Although coastal communities have already passed regulations requiring residents to turn off beachfront lights during nesting season, these rules are not always imposed.
If you’re living near the beach, there are some things that you can do to protect sea turtles. One of these is turning off lights that are visible on beaches. If you see disoriented hatchlings inland, call the local law enforcement immediately. There are also unique fixtures that can be used to shield artificial light sources from the beach. LPS lighting can be used instead of normal lighting. Cover windows that are facing the beach with blinds or opaque curtains. Use Turtle Safe Lighting. These are red lights that produce an extremely narrow part of the visible light spectrum, so it’s less intrusive to hatchlings and nesting turtles.
STC (Sea Turtle Conservancy) is also implementing a new program to address the artificial lighting problem in Florida. Since almost 90% of all turtles nesting in the US occur on Florida beaches, the death of hatchlings due to poorly managed lighting sources presents a major hindrance to the recovery of turtle population in the US. STC has already worked with more than 161 properties.
Any reduction in the amount of artificial lighting helps sea turtles and hatchlings. When hatchlings emerge at locations far from brightly lit properties and on a moonlit night, they will have a higher chance of finding the sea. If there are misdirected hatchlings, notify a local environmental or natural resource protection agency right away. They should be taken to a darker part of the beach and allowed to find the sea on their own.
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