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Crosswalk lighting on Gulf of Mexico Drive temporarily shut off for sea turtles

2024 is the 43rd year of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium's sea turtle monitoring program.
2024 is the 43rd year of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium's sea turtle monitoring program.
Courtesy image
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The Florida Department of Transportation announced in a June 21 press release that the overhead lighting at crosswalks along State Road 789 will be temporarily shut off. 

SR 789 is a state-owned highway that spans from Anna Maria Island, through Longboat Key and St. Armands Circle to Sarasota. On Longboat Key, the road is called Gulf of Mexico Drive but is called Gulf Drive in Anna Maria Island.

The release came in response to an incident that occurred on Anna Maria Island early on the morning of June 19. 

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring responded to a female loggerhead sea turtle that was struck by a car that morning. According to a press release from Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, the turtle nested in the dunes and then became disoriented by overhead crosswalk streetlights on Gulf Drive. 

Artificial lighting that is visible from the beach can cause disorientations of nesting and hatchling sea turtles. The turtles can confuse the artificial lights for the moonlight, which the turtles use as a guide toward the Gulf. 

The turtle was dead at the scene, and the body was taken for a necropsy by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 

“The good news is that she laid eggs before heading toward the road, so her legacy will continue,” said Kristen Mazzarella, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch in the press release. 

Representatives from Manatee County, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Bradenton Beach Police Department assisted at the scene. 

The department began discussions with local wildlife advocates and other partners to assess short- and long-term solutions to the lighting issues all along SR 789, including on Longboat Key, according to the release from FDOT.

“FDOT and Longboat Key have agreed to temporarily turn off the overhead lighting at the crosswalks,” the release stated. 

The department also stated it is in the process of acquiring lighting shields for the crosswalk lights, which will be installed to block light visible from the shoreline. 

Concerns over lighting from Gulf of Mexico Drive were raised on May 20 at the Longboat Key Town Commission’s workshop. Resident and Vice President of Longboat Key Turtle Watch Cyndi Seamon spoke about the concerns, which included street lighting along Gulf of Mexico Drive and at the new crosswalk near Bayfront Park.

Longboat Key resident Cyndi Seamon brought up concerns about new town street lighting, like this one near Bayfront Park.
Courtesy image

At that time, Director of Planning, Zoning and Building Allen Parsons assured the commission and Seamon that staff would investigate the ownership of the lights and proceed accordingly. 

Since then, town staff ordered lighting shields for the streetlights along Gulf of Mexico Drive that were installed as a part of the utilities undergrounding project. 

The crosswalks, though, were installed by the FDOT and therefore fell under its jurisdiction. 

“Those who travel on State Road 789 (Gulf Drive) are asked to be vigilant when traveling through this area while we try to make Gulf Drive safer for our road users and local wildlife,” the release stated. 

As of June 15, Mote recorded 600 sea turtle nests on Longboat Key. The FWC states that the average incubation period for sea turtles is about two months, so the first hatchlings on Longboat Key could come in July.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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