Look — but don’t touch.
In preparation for sea turtle nesting season, which begins May 1, Sarasota County officials are reminding residents and visitors to turn off lights along coastlines, remove beach accessories after dark and stay away from marked turtle nests on beaches.
Many coastal areas are highly populated with artificial lighting near the beach that can deter females from nesting and disorient hatchling sea turtles. Hatchlings travel inland toward artificial lights, where they often die from dehydration, are killed by fire ants and ghost crabs and 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. They are deemed threatened under federal law, along with 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. Fines for violations can reach up to $1,000 per day.
“Shielding non-compliant fixtures with meal flashing found at hardware stores is an easy and inexpensive way to block lights from the beach,” said Keri Ferenc-Nelson, an environmental specialist with Sarasota County. “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.
The county enforces turtle protections on Lido Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key and Manasota Key. Longboat Key and the city of Venice have separate ordinances and enforcement rules.
Ways to help sea turtles:
• Close drapes after dark when interior lights are in use.
• Remove beach furniture and trash at night so it does not hinder migration to and from the water.
• Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings and knocking 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 information, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 861-5000 or visit www.scgov.net. The keyword search is “sea turtle.”
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].