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Dark Skies at Night, Turtle's Delight

Kendra Bergman of Coastal Connections, Inc. talks about about dark skies and their role in protecting sea turtles!


Sea turtles can be found living in ocean waters across the world and year-round in Indian River County and Vero Beach. When on the lagoon or at the beach you may see them swimming and poking their heads above the water to breathe during the day. But it isn't until after dark when sea turtles come ashore to begin nesting during the months of March-October.


Sea turtles are highly dependent on visual cues to aid with both nesting and hatching activities. Adults looking for safe nesting sites can be scared away from bright lights or shadows moving around on illuminated beaches. If a nest is successfully laid it will take about two months for the eggs to develop into hatchlings. These 100+ hatchlings then need to follow the light generated by the moon and stars to find their way to the ocean.


Decades ago, prior to when the coastal development that we see (and enjoy) today was built, beaches were very dark and protected, making them safe for reproduction. However, a lot has changed along coastal landscapes, and along with that change has come an influx of artificial lighting from illuminating buildings, parking lots, roadways, and entire cities.


Through years of research, scientists have learned that bright lights cause sea turtles to “false-crawl”, or unsuccessfully attempt to nest, wasting precious stored energy. These lights also cause hatchlings to disorient or crawl in a direction away from the ocean and toward dangerous threats like roads, storm drains, chlorinated pools, and more. Further research has also found that there are specific lights that have a greater impact on sea turtles than others. These lights are white lights and short-wavelength lights like blue, purple, green, and yellow. Scientists have documented these as the most “attractive” lights for hatchlings and the lights most likely to scare nesting adults away from nesting.


So if sea turtles are so impacted by light, what should hotels, homes, businesses, and people do? The best way to help sea turtles survive is by turning off external lights. The less light the better. Skyglow is caused by the general illumination of the sky from light reflecting off hard surfaces. By reducing direct and indirect light from reaching the beach, we are able to allow the natural light to guide these federally protected animals as it has for millions of years. But, if lights are needed for personal safety and security, it is best to use light blubs or flashlights that are red or amber in color. These are the longer wavelengths of the visible light spectrum that have been found to be the least impactful on wildlife. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also recommends that all light be as low to the ground as possible and be shielded so the bulb is not visible from the beach.


Luckily, many restaurants and hotels have become supportive of helping sea turtles survive by retrofitting or upgrading all of their lighting to meet wildlife-friendly standards. If you are interested in supporting a “Sea Turtle Friendly Certified Hotel” in Florida, please visit https://coastal-connections.org/turtle-travels/#certified. And, if you want to play a role in the sea turtle success story, please take 3 minutes to pledge to keep beaches “Clean, Dark and Flat”. Together we can help sea turtles survive, thrive, and recover.


If you would like to see a sea turtle on the nesting beach, please contact Coastal Connections to learn more about their permitted and guided nighttime Turtle Walks and daytime Turtle Digs. Or visit their office and giftshop at 3321 Bridge Plaza Drive, Vero Beach, FL 32963.


**We must be reminded to please not disturb nesting or hatching turtles it is important to give them space. You can call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 1-888-404-3922 if you see a sick/injured/distressed sea turtle of any size/life stage.


Photos courtesy of Coastal Connections, Inc.

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