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Longboat Key Monday, Nov. 9, 2020 1 year ago

Town weighs turtle rule revisions

Town staff presented commissioners several proposed recommendations on Monday afternoon.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key is considering several changes to its marine turtle protection requirements.

The town has had 487 turtle disorientations since 2017. Among Florida's municipalities, it is the second-highest number during that timespan.

“We think there are some opportunities to clarify some ambiguities,” Planning, Zoning and Building director Allen Parsons said during Monday’s town commission workshop.

One of the proposed changes would adjust the lighting standards for new or existing developments. Town staff is recommending the change to the percentage amount of light that is allowed to be transmitted from a light transmittance value of 45% to a recommended value of 15%. If implemented, the change would be mandatory for new construction or replacement windows.

The town also wants to make it mandatory for residents and businesses to use turtle-friendly exterior light bulbs. Specifically, Parsons said the recommended changes are for floodlights, uplights, spotlights and decorative lights. He said the turtle-friendly exterior bulbs are available at hardware stores.

“They are more expensive, but they are also more effective,” Parsons said.

Town staff also recommended prohibiting temporary lighting like tiki torches and flashlights between sunset and sunrise. Mayor Ken Schneier said he would like to see an exception for small safety lights people can carry with them.

“We might want to have a carve-out for the small-caliber personal device for safety on the beach,” Schneier said.

However, Parsons said even temporary bright lights can attract turtles.

“Generally, people are pretty good about keeping lights off at nighttime, and certainly when code enforcement speaks with them, we’ve had good cooperation,” Parsons said. “

The proposed changes also would require beach furniture to be stacked.

“Right now, the requirement is it just has to be pulled back to the dune lines,” Parsons said. “We have received feedback that it was possible for turtles that without enough weight on the beach furniture, they find themselves digging underneath beach furniture and possibly becoming entangled in it.”

Commissioners BJ Bishop and Sherry Dominick expressed their concerns about the enforcement of the proposals.

“I do wonder about our ability to enforce, enact and make sure that this is not taking place,” Bishop said. “We have 11 miles of shoreline and we’ve got one code enforcement officer, so how do you see if we continue to enhance this code that we can in fact enforce them and ensure that it’s taking place.”

Parsons said the town relies on educating the public about the rules.

“I would rather be working with the various condo associations and educating them and asking them to help us with that rather than making that a violation of the law,” Dominick said. “And then, not really enforcing it in any consistent way.

“I mean it’s kind of like having a lease law and not having any way to enforce the lease law.”

Longboat Key has seen its average number of yearly turtle disorientations increase since 2013.

“It appears to be something townwide,” Parsons said. “There are many reasons for that.”

Sea turtle nesting season runs each year from May 1-Oct. 31.

Town staff has received input from the public, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Mote Marine Lab, Sea Turtle Conservancy and Longboat Key Turtle Watch.

Town staff would need to craft an ordinance for commissioners to consider the changes. It’s unclear how soon the proposed changes would take effect because Parsons said people in Longboat Key would need time to make sure they are in compliance.

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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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