Turtle disorientations soarFrom the August 11, 2010 Issue
BRADENTON BEACH – About 500 loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings fell victim to illegal lights last week in Bradenton Beach, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shore Bird Monitoring Director Suzi Fox.
All five nests that hatched were disoriented, she said, and no hatchlings were found, indicating that they were eaten by crabs, birds, cats or other predators.
After this year’s prolonged, cold winter and with oil remaining in the Gulf of Mexico, the deaths are more keenly felt by Fox and her volunteers.
Compared to the 500 hatchlings that died last week on the Island, 511 sea turtles have been recovered dead in the entire Gulf over the nearly four months since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began.
Of the 17 nests that have hatched on Anna Maria Island so far this year, 11 have disoriented – about 1,100 hatchlings – with five of the nests in Bradenton Beach. More have died than have made it to the Gulf, she said.
“I’m afraid this city is not going to have any of their 24 remaining nests hatch and go to the sea,” Fox said.
On Aug. 7, a nest at 28th Street in Holmes Beach, one at 53rd Street in Holmes Beach and one at Willow Avenue in Anna Maria disoriented, all heading south towards Bradenton Beach, she said, while a nest that hatched on Aug. 5 was disoriented by lights at the Gulf Drive Café and the BeachHouse resort, and a nest at Sixth Street was disoriented by lights at 501 Gulf Drive on Aug. 6.
“I think the main reason is the increase of business lights,” she said, adding that the lights on Bridge Street are brighter this year than last as a result of a request by a Bradenton Beach commissioner to increase the wattage from 400 to 700.
Other lights in Bradenton Beach that are not in compliance with lighting ordinances are at the Anna Maria Island Club, Banana Cabana restaurant, Oma's Pizza, the BeachHouse restaurant, apartments next to the BeachHouse parking lot, the Beach House Resort, Silver Surf Resort, all the rental houses from 1100 to 1200 Gulf Drive with the exception of 1110 Gulf Drive, and 501 Gulf Drive, she said.
The Florida Department of Transportation also is doing overnight road work on Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach, using extremely high wattage lights that may be causing disorientations, she said.
“The sky above Bradenton Beach is the brightest part of the sky on clouded or moonless nights, and quite noticeably so all the way to Anna Maria,” Fox said.
“This directly attracts emerging hatchlings, which orient to that glow, instead of the darker Gulf to the west. We believe there is a strong possibility that if hatchlings leave nests on Anna Maria Island this year and there is no moon or there is heavy cloud cover, they may all disorient.”
So many lights are on that Turtle Watch was unable to release hatchlings one evening last week, she said.
Bradenton Beach code enforcement officers put hang tags on the doors of beachfront homes and rentals warning residents and visitors that a nest is due to hatch soon in the area, and that all interior and exterior lights that can be seen from the beach must be turned off or shielded, for example, with blinds or drapes.
Fox said the city should hold rental agents – not visitors – responsible.
In addition, Turtle Watch has requested that the city require the BeachHouse restaurant to apply for a permit to park cars on the beach at night.
Cars were parked on the beach at the restaurant the night of Aug. 7, when a turtle came ashore to lay eggs, but returned to the Gulf without making a nest, Fox said.