Longboat Key goes darker for turtles

Turtle nest
Hatchling sea turtles can become confused about where to go when they emerge from their nests if beachfront lighting is brighter than the Gulf of Mexico. - Cindy Lane | Sun

LONGBOAT KEY – Turtles will not see as much light on Longboat Key when the town begins enforcing its new turtle lighting ordinance beginning May 1.

Like the three Anna Maria Island cities that have turtle lighting ordinances, Longboat Key’s code enforcement officer is checking the beaches at night prior to the start of the six-month season. The town is working with people to retrofit their outdoor lighting to turtle-friendly fixtures.

When artificial lights are brighter than the Gulf of Mexico, nesting and hatching turtles can become confused, abandoning nests and crawling into streets and storm drains instead of the Gulf of Mexico, said biologist Rick Herren, of The Sea Turtle Conservancy, which co-sponsored a lighting workshop April 5 with the Town of Longboat Key.

Federal, state and local laws protect sea turtles, Herren said; loggerheads, a state threatened species, are the most common visitors to local beaches.

Low, long and shielded

The aim of the ordinance is to make sure beachfront lighting is low to the ground – two to three feet high – or aimed downward if on a second floor or above. It should have long wavelengths, such as amber or red (not including painted compact fluorescent bug lights) because short wavelengths like blues and greens attract turtles. Lights also should be shielded so they do not shine towards the beach.

Beachfront residents and visitors should also shield turtles from indoor lights by using window tint that transmits 45 percent or less of the indoor light to the outdoors. People also can simply close their beachfront blinds or drapes every night during turtle season, which lasts until Oct. 31, he said.

Turtle-friendly lighting increases the safety of people as well as turtles, complying with the Florida Building Code that imposes lighting standards for walkways and pools, Herren said. Turtle-friendly lighting actually allows people to see better at night because it is not bright enough to cause blind spots, he added.

The cost of retrofitted lights and labor is often free to property owners with grants from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration fund, he said.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring got one of the first turtle lighting grants after the oil spill and helped retrofit 11 properties, director Suzi Fox said.

“Their electric costs went down and their neighbors went into the program because the lights looked so good,” she said.

For information on lighting fixtures or lighting grants, visit www.conserveturtles.org.