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Protecting threatened turtles by shielding lights outside

By Staff | May 13, 2020

Turtle season is here and for those unaware of the town’s lighting requirements, an ordinance approved by Fort Myers Beach Town Council in February could make for some expensive fines for those found to be in violation of the town’s code regarding lights shining onto the sand and water of Fort Myers Beach.

The ordinance is meant to protect the sea turtles who visit the beach. Loggerhead turtles are classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The ordinance, which was formulated by Chadd Chustz, the town’s environmental project manager, along with Turtle Time founder Eve Haverfield and through input by Council, bans all artificial light visible from anywhere on the beach.

Haverfield recommends that people use amber LED lights in their homes. Sea turtles don’t respond to that type of light.

The ordinance is meant to protect nocturnal sea turtles who hit the shore to nest their eggs. The town’s ordinance covers the period between May 1 and Oct. 31. Those whose lights are in violation between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. can face fines of up to $250 per day upon initial violations and up to $500 per day for repeat violators.

Currently, Chustz said he is planning to issue warnings and educate violators during this early part of the season. As of Friday, Chustz said he had documented approximately 50 violations.

While the ordinance calls for weekly inspections, Chustz said he went out three nights last week to observe lighting along the beach from Bowditch Point Park to San Carlos Beach. Chustz typically goes out from 9 p.m. when the ordinance takes effect until about midnight.

“We use beach patrol utility vehicles,” Chustz said of the work he and another code enforcement officer does to cover a beach more than six miles long. He said they typically will only cover part of the beach on the nights they go out. Chustz said sometimes he will walk part of the beach.

Asked whether the use of the beach patrol utility vehicles could disturb the sea turtles from nesting or potentially interfere with their activities, Chustz said “we’re super diligent. It we saw a turtle, we would cut (off the vehicle) and turn off the lights.” Chustz said they cover the utility lights with a shield so “it’s not as sensitive to the sea turtles.”

Chustz said folks should “turn off unnecessary lights” and shield landscaping lights. Other lights Replace strong bulbs with long wave-length bulbs, he said. For those unsure of which lights they should use, Chustz recommends they look for lights with seals indicating they are FWC-friendly. The town also has a sea turtle informational website to learn more about which lights are acceptable at www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov/963/Sea-Turtle-Information. The website also links to the Sea Turtle Conservancy website at conserveturtles.org/beachfront-lighting-turtle-friendly-fixtures-lights/.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also has a website that shows which lights are wildlife certified at myfwc.com/conservation/you-conserve/lighting/criteria/certified/.