Sea turtle nesting season begins May 1
Sarasota County officials are reminding residents and visitors that sea turtle nesting season begins May 1, and that means turning off lights along coastlines, removing beach accessories after dark and staying away from marked turtle nests on beaches.
Female sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs on beaches. Hatchlings will instinctively travel away from the dark silhouettes of the dune vegetation and toward the brightest horizon, usually the light from the sky reflecting off the ocean. However, many coastal areas are highly populated and there are many artificial lights near the beach that can deter females from nesting and disorient hatchling sea turtles. The hatchlings travel inland toward the artificial lights, where they often die from dehydration, are preyed upon by fire ants and ghost crabs, or sometimes crawl onto the road where they are run over by cars.
Southwest Florida beaches host the Gulf of Mexico's largest nesting population of loggerhead sea turtles, deemed threatened under federal law, along with endangered green sea turtles and rare Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Sarasota County and local municipalities have ordinances requiring beachfront residences and businesses to shield lights so they are not visible on beaches, but some properties continue to violate these ordinances. Fines for violations can reach up to $1,000 per day.
"Shielding non-compliant fixtures with metal flashing found at hardware stores is an easy and inexpensive way to block light from the beach," said Sarasota County Environmental Specialist Keri Ferenc-Nelson. "Beach residents, business owners and visitors can keep their lights turtle-friendly by installing lights low to the ground, using 'long' light wavelengths (red, orange and dark amber light-emitting diode or LED bulbs), and shielding fixtures so light is directed downward, not out toward beaches."
Sarasota County enforces turtle protections on Lido Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key and Manasota Key. Longboat Key and the city of Venice have their own ordinances and enforcement rules.
Other ways to help sea turtles include:
closing drapes after dark when interior lights are in use
removing beach furniture and trash at night so it does not hinder migration to and from the water
filling in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water, and knock down sand castles
never approach nesting turtles or pick up hatchlings
only use flashlights to enter and exit the beach. Fishing lanterns should be used only as necessary to set, bait and remove hooks from fish, and should not be on otherwise during fishing.
For more information, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 941-861-5000 or visit www.scgov.net, keyword search "sea turtle."