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Commission moves turtle ordinance forward

After four hours of discussion over three meetings, the Longboat Key Town Commission has found consensus on stronger sea turtle protections.

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  • | 9:30 a.m. May 17, 2016
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Nesting sea turtles bound for Longboat Key beaches will have more real estate and protection next nesting season. But it was a long crawl for advocates pushing stricter regulations.

After four hours of discussion over three workshops in the last two months — during which commissioners prodded Code Enforcement Officer Chris Elbon for more information and data each time — the Town Commission asked staff to present new turtle regulations for first reading next month. The revised ordinance, which will likely take effect in July, more than doubles the length of the current three-page section of the town’s code dealing with the threatened reptiles.

Mayor Jack Duncan was out sick with pneumonia, and Commissioner Phill Younger was overseas during the meeting.

“It seems like everyone’s concerns have been addressed,” said Mote Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella after the workshop. “Anything for more turtle protection we’re happy with.”

Artificial light from the shore can disorient baby turtles, which mistake those artificial sources with illumination from the moon, and wander away from the Gulf of Mexico. Data compiled by Mote shows that Longboat leads the Sarasota-Manatee barrier islands in disorientations.

If the commission adopts the new regulations, Elbon, who was previously confined to searching for illegal light on “a dark, moonless night,” will be able to warn property owners of potential violations any evening. 

The revised regulations also prohibit beachgoers from leaving chairs, coolers and other items on the beach that can block baby turtles from the gulf.

The amended rules address 13 types of lighting, up from the nine varieties the current ordinance enforces. The new rules make interior lighting visible from the beach illegal, which had been a point of concern for commissioners as they sought to balance the needs of property owners with the threatened species.

The move coincides with the town’s truck-haul renourishment project, which will eventually widen the beach with 200,000 cubic yards of sand by mid-September. After contractors finish the New Pass and Longboat Pass dredging in November, the beach will gain an additional 650,000 cubic yards of sand.

Mote has already recorded six sea turtle nests on Longboat beaches since April 24.

The town will distribute door hangers and speak to property managers about the regulations if the amended ordinance passes this summer. Existing properties would have six months after adoption to come into compliance.

Elbon plans begin walking the beach every night of the week for two weeks a month next nesting season, giving warnings to first-time violators and beginning the citation process only after they have had a “reasonable amount of time” to correct lighting issues.


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