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Longboat Key Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 3 years ago

Education key to Longboat's new turtle regulations, officials say

More enforcement, more cases but more disorientations: Longboat officials agree education is the best way to protect turtles.
by: Bret Hauff Staff Writer

Longboat Key turtles dug a record-breaking number of nests along the 10 mile island this year, but did the town’s stricter regulations help all those nesting mothers and their hatchlings? 

“We’re doing OK,” said former Public Works Director Juan Florensa. “Could we do better? Absolutely.”

These new rules allowed more frequent beach inspections, expanded restricted lighting types from nine to 13, including indoor lights, and restricted beachgoers from leaving furniture and recreational items on the shoreline from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. 

They were implemented to comply with state and federal laws with regard to these threatened species and reduce the number of disorientations — turtles going in the wrong direction, said Police Chief Pete Cumming. 

But Mote Marine Aquarium and Laboratory found a “notable increase” in disorientations this year, said Sea Turtle Conservation Research Program Staff Biologist Melissa Bernhard. 

“The root of the disorientation problem is lights,” Bernhard said.

Longboat Police Department received 398 turtle season lighting and furniture complaints, 139 of which were deemed violations of the new codes, according to an end of the year report sent to the Town Commission this month. In 37 inspections, the department found 81 beach obstructions and opened 50 lighting violation cases. 

“They expanded on the protections of the ordinance and they expanded enforcement opportunities,” said Code Enforcement Officer Chris Eblon. “There’s a lot of properties that still have a ways to go as far as coming into compliance.”

Police used these new rules not as a way to cite individuals but rather to educate them about best practices for protecting turtles, Cumming said. 

Just one business was brought before the code enforcement board and not one individual was fined — all others received a courtesy notice or, if they didn’t comply, a “firmer” notice of code violation, Eblon said 

“We’re trying to get that voluntary compliance without being heavy-handed,” Eblon said.

But not everyone took the courtesy notices kindly, Eblon said.

“Longboat Key is a highly regulated town,” Florensa said. “Sometimes the negative message is not particularly taken well, especially when you don’t explain why.”

“Longboat Key is a highly regulated town. Sometimes the negative message is not particularly taken well, especially when you don’t explain why.”

That why the Public Works Department approached the Ringling Design Center this summer and asked if it would design a poster to help educate Longboat visitors about the importance of turning off lights and removing beach funiture in protecting this endangered species. 

Two Ringling College seniors, Silpa Joe, a graphic design student, and India Boeckh, an illustration major, presented their campaign to the Town Commission at its Nov. 13 workshop meeting. 

Their slogan? Flip a switch, make a move, save our turtles. 

The students, with the guidance of Ringling Design Center Associate Director Holly Antoscewski, planned a campaign with the hope of reinforcing their message through widespread distribution. They’ve designed posters, T-shirts, door hangs, elevator clings, beach chair tags, placemats, coasters and more.

“No one is one place,” said Jennifer Mumford Brady, Ringling College's design center director. “It's vital that we reach our audience wherever they may be so that these messages can come before them and be reinforced.”

Florensa said education is key to improving the town's approach to turtle preservation. 

“People will do as requested if they know and understand why they’re doing it,” Florensa said. 

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