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It's time for turtles

Sea turtle nesting is in full swing.

June 21, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach residents can be fined up to $500 for violating the lighting ordinance that protects nesting sea turtles.

Sea turtles use light to guide them, both mothers searching for a nesting spot and hatchlings trying to get to the ocean. If a resident's lights cause sea turtles to wander ashore, instead of back to sea, they could be found in violation of not only town regulations but also state and federal laws.

Code enforcement officer Molly Jacobs said she tries to start with an educational conversation to get residents willfully into compliance. But if compliance is not met, then the case begins in the code enforcement process.

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FWC Biologist Tonya Long spoke about best practices for beach lighting at Bay Oaks.

"We have had to take people to special magistrate," she said.

But it's not just a town ordinance that must be followed.

FWC calls it a disorientation event when turtles wander around on land because they're confused about how to get back to the water. For most, this means death: hatchlings are easy prey. They and female adults can also water up into the road and get run over. If this event can be proven to Florida Fish and Wildlife law enforcement, the consequences can be expensive.

Avoiding these fines only takes some education, and maybe a change of lighting.

FWC Biologist Tonya Long gave a presentation at Bay Oaks Wednesday to educate the public about the importance of following outdoor lighting rules on the coast.

"Everything exciting happens at night here," Long said.

Female turtles search for darker beaches, Long said. Then when they have made their nest they look for the horizon, which in nature would be the brightest line, to guide them back to the water.

But when street lamps and condo lights and porch lights and TV screens and lit pools brighten the skyline instead, both mothers and babies can get mixed up.

The female turtles, depending on the species, can weigh up to 300 pounds. They move on land primarily with their front flippers, and land travel for these marine reptiles is exhausting.

"Imagine trying to drag yourself across the sand with your front hands," Long said.

The hatchlings climb out of the nest and only have so much energy to spare to get them to the sea and out into the sargassum seaweed that serves as their home until they're big enough to survive in the open ocean.

"They're attracted in the brightest direction," Long said.

In 2015, the FWC had 2,700 disorientation events, a number that's been on the rise. Long said the increase in disorientations is partly due to the increase in the sea turtle population. At one time, the turtles were overfished for their meat and shell for jewelry and combs. It takes one female 25 years to become sexually mature, so a large swath of the population was taken out before they could repopulate. Once biologists took note, they began the efforts to rebuild the populations.

The easiest way to help is to turn off outdoor lights and pull the blinds to block interior lights once it gets dark. But some lights have to stay on for safety reasons, and those lights can be adjusted to be more turtle-friendly.

The FWC now has a certified vendor list of lighting companies whose product meet the correct standards for turtle-safe lighting. The list can be found on

FWC has three "golden rules" for residents to check when trying to see if their lights are compliant:

keep it low, keep it shielded and keep it longwave.

Putting lights for walkways or other necessary safety spots at a lower level helps prevent the light from casting out onto the beach. If lights do have to placed higher, then the next step is to shield them, Long said. Having a shade that directs the light down also prevents it from projecting out.

Keep it longwave refers to the wavelengths of the lights in the bulbs. Short wavelengths produce bright colors like white and blue light. Long wavelengths produce yellow, amber and red.

Researchers have found turtles are attracted most to the brighter colored lights, and not as interested in the long wave colors, Long said. Using these colors can help reduce the impact in lighting fixtures that are necessary for human safety, such as street lights and walkways.

But many people forget about pools. Certain regulations require pools to be lit at night as a safety precaution, but the refraction of the water usually reflects the light up against the building. Many buildings in Florida's coastal areas are painted light colors, so then the light is doubly reflected out onto the beach, Long said.

"Wait until night time, take a walk on the beach and look at your home," Long says. "Can I see the bulb? Is it directly visible? If so, shield it or redirect it."



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