Lights Out to Protect Sea Turtles

    The air is rich with the perfume of salt on this warm Florida evening. A smattering of stars adorns the sky. Waves play a rhythmic, peaceful song against the beach.

    The baby loggerhead turtle knows the time is right. He emerges from his nest. His instincts are screaming that he should get moving, that he needs to scramble on his immature, brown-yellow limbs toward the light.

    He doesn’t know that where he is supposed to be headed is the ocean. He only knows that the light draws him. His instinct is clever; for most of the past 60 million years when this scene has been played out, the ocean has been the brightest light.

    When he reaches it – if he reaches it, past the predators that would like to gobble him up – he’ll plunge his tiny frame into its arms.

    If he reaches adulthood he will grow into a magnificent creature that will reach as much as 800 pounds and three and a half feet long. He may well live as long as 30, 40 or even 50 years. But the odds against him are staggering. Only one out of 1,000 hatchlings will make it to maturity. His first daunting task is to get to the ocean.

    The baby loggerhead begins his dangerous trek, drawing his toes deep into the sand and dredging a trail behind him. He can see the light shimmering, beckoning him. Finally, he reaches it.

    Only it’s not the ocean.

    It’s a highway. The miniature turtle has been confused by its lights, and has hurried the wrong direction toward certain disaster.

    Sadly, many times, this story is a true one. Sea turtles are endangered. The demand for their meat, eggs, shell, leather and oil, coupled with the loss of habitat due to urban development along the coasts has seriously reduced their populations.

    The good news is that you can help save our little friend and his kind. How? During turtle nesting season – that’s every year from April to October – you can follow Florida Fish and Wildlife’s recommendations for sea turtle friendly lighting:

    • Keep it Low (mounting height and wattage).
    • Keep it Shielded. No lights should be visible from the beach or open water.
    • Keep it Long (wavelength), RED or Amber.

    More turtle tips:

    • Never approach turtles emerging from the sea or bother or harass nesting turtles.
    • Beware of disoriented hatchlings or turtles wandering on the road.
    • Take care when boating to avoid collision with turtles.
    • When on the beach at night, use only natural starlight or moonlight. 
    • If you see an injured or dead sea turtle, please report dead or injured marine turtles by calling Florida Fish and Wildlife at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). Between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., you can also page them at 800-241-4653, entering the ID# 274-4867. Please be sure to include your area code when paging.
    The unspoiled beaches at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge are some of the most productive nesting grounds on the east coast for sea turtles.

    The unspoiled beaches at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge are some of the most productive nesting grounds for sea turtles.

    - Bonnie Gross

    Since nesting sea turtles are so sacred, beginning in May through October, beachfront lights must be off by 9 p.m.

    Since nesting sea turtles are so sacred, beachfront lights must be off by 9 p.m.

    - Contributed Photo