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Artificial light causing disorientations among sea turtle hatchlings

By Staff | Aug 9, 2017

A hatchling making its way to the water. JARED CHRISP

Although the Sanibel-Captiva Conser-vation Foundation’s Sea Turtle Program has had excellent numbers thus far this year, SCCF Sea Turtle Coordinator Kelly Sloan said that recently, they are having lighting issues on the beach.

“Loggerhead hatching season starts in late June and goes into October, and already this year we have seen 18 hatchling disorientations. All lights visible from the beach should be turned off as soon as the sun goes down. Interior lights and flashlights appear to be the biggest issues right now. The good news is that disorientations are 100 percent preventable. Everyone can help save sea turtles by closing their blinds when staying at beachfront condos or homes, and either turning off flashlights on the beach or using an approved red cover to filter out the harmful white light,” Sloan said.

Disorientations result in the hatchlings going in the wrong direction, away from the sea.

As of Thursday, Aug. 3, there were 646 nests on Sanibel, 31 of those were laid by green sea turtles. On Captiva, there were a total of 188 nests – all of which were laid by loggerheads.

Sloan thinks that the last few nesting seasons have been successful due to years of conservation efforts.

“Sea turtle conservation started about 30 years ago, and it takes hatchling sea turtles about 30 years to reach maturity. We think that decades worth of work on the nesting beaches and reducing fisheries interactions seem to be paying off, and we are starting to see the hatchlings that were protected 30 years ago as adults on our nesting beaches,” Sloan said.

With hatching season running through October and sometimes even as late as November, it’s important to keep white light to a minimum.

“Artificial light is the biggest threat to hatchlings in Florida. Mammalian predators have caused issues in past years, but so far this season we have been fortunate to document an extremely low depredation rate. We have had three storms this season that have caused some problems with nests flooding due to the strong storm surge, but overall our hatch rate has been very high,” Sloan said.