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Longboat Key Monday, Jul. 5, 2021 10 months ago

Longboat Key's sea turtle protections to change in 2022

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Longboat finalizes new rules for turtle nesting, beginning next year.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The town of Longboat Key will change its sea turtle protections after months of discussion.

While the changes take effect on Jan. 2, 2022, by law, they are applicable during turtle season, which runs each year from May 1-Oct. 31.

Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons said the changes are going to require outreach and education to inform property owners.

“There will be, I think, a strong burden on staff here to help with identifying resources for people to be able to conveniently and easily find some of these products [like] turtle-friendly bulbs,” Parsons said. “As we talked about at the last meeting, different retailers may refer to those differently.”

Here are some of the changes to Chapter 100 of the Town Code:

  • Requiring all sources of artificial light visible from the beach to come from turtle-friendly bulbs and turtle-friendly fixtures.
  • No temporary structures or portable recreation equipment can be within 5 feet of marked marine turtle nests. The town’s current ordinance does not list a distance restriction between a sea turtle nest and someone’s beach chair.
  • Prohibiting the operation of motorized vehicles with some exceptions, including for law enforcement, emergencies, permitted construction projects or tourism properties (hotels and motels) that have a recreational-use agreement with the town. A recreational-use agreement allows an entity to use large motor vehicles to retrieve temporary structures or portable recreational equipment on the beach.
  • Requiring temporary structures to be  removed from the beach nightly from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. during marine turtle nesting season.

“This is really educational and compliance-based,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “Our code enforcement typically doesn’t go out there and cite someone, especially for the first time.”

Other changes include adding language to explain the permitting review process, adding a lighting inspection process for new developments, prohibiting temporary lights at nighttime such as lanterns or tiki torches and nightly storage of portable recreational equipment.

The reason for Longboat Key’s changes is state data shows the island has a high sea turtle disorientation rate compared to other Florida municipalities.

“That’s one of the biggest things, visible light from the beach during season at night that can be those disorientations, so I think that is a big thing,” Harmer said.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium public relations manager Stephannie Kettle said that in 2020, Longboat Key had the second-most sea turtle disorientations among Florida beaches.

In an email to Harmer, Parsons has cited state data that shows Longboat Key had 130 disorientations among the 1,136 sea turtle nests in 2020.

“We encourage the town to follow the guidance of FWC to tint windows, to shield light sources that are visible to the beach, and to utilize FWC approved marine turtle fixtures and bulbs,” Kettle wrote in an email.

Initially, town staff considered window tinting as a potential resolution to fix beachfront-lighting issues, though price considerations in switching from 45% of light transmission to 15% proved overwhelming. 

In April, town commissioners heard from an engineer who explained there is typically a higher cost for darker tinted glass. The higher cost prompted staff and commissioners not to require window tinting as part of the ordinance. 

Also, Parsons said any permit the town receives before Jan. 2, 2022, is subject to the town’s existing code.

Parsons and commissioners acknowledged the difficulty of shopping for lighting products that are considered “turtle-friendly.”

Harmer said staff would plan to brief commissioners in December or January 2022 on their efforts to let property owners know about the specific changes they need to make.

 

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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