Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Lights Out Marco Beachfront

It’s Sea Turtle Season

Photos by Maria Lamb
| FWC certified Sea turtle friendly flashlight has seven LED bulbs that emit only red light. A standard flashlight emits white or short wavelength light and is known to disorient sea turtles or hatchlings. (turtlesafeonline.com)


 

In Southwest Florida, Sea Turtle nesting season takes place from May 1 through October 31. 

Last year, the season started early with the first arrival of a nesting loggerhead at Hideaway the week of April 21, so it is not uncommon to find early arrivals on Marco’s beaches.

Yesenia Olvera, last year’s Sea Turtle Monitor, will have two new and seasoned surveyors helping out – Sam and Jamie!

Research has found that female sea turtles return to the same place every year to lay their eggs by sensing the specific magnetic field of the beach where they were born. This became imprinted on the turtle’s brain at birth to help them find their way back.

On nesting beaches, light from beachfront properties can disorient nesting female turtles. About 35 years ago Marco’s beach was darker – a perfect place for sea turtle nesting. They also prefer to come ashore to deposit their eggs at night. But now, the female sea turtles and their hatchlings must share the beach with a growing number of beachfront foot traffic and navigate the challenges presented by the glow of artificial lights from condos, hotels, and timeshares. 

A female sea turtle will crawl up the beach but sometimes fail to find a suitable site to lay eggs and will return to the water. In the morning you will find two sets of flipper prints on the sand: one coming up the beach and the other going back to the water. This is considered a false crawl.

Hatchlings rely on the natural glow of light over the water to draw them down the water. Unfortunately, bright lights from beach structures and even streetlights on Collier Boulevard can confuse hatchlings and they crawl away from the water towards the artificial light. The morning inspection of the nest will show tiny prints heading to the dunes, pool decks, parking lots – in the wrong direction AWAY from the water that usually results in “irreparable harm.” to the newborn hatchlings. This is considered a hatchling disorientation.

If a sea turtle emerges from the water, does it mean she is nesting? According to sea turtle experts, the only reason for a sea turtle to come out of the water is to NEST! However, experts also add that approximately 50 percent of the time, a female sea turtle will return to the water without making a nest. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes she is spooked by human activities on the beach at night. Or she encountered obstacles such as chairs, trash, towels, tents, toys left on the beach or she bumped into a sand structure such as a sandcastle. It is very important to keep the beach DARK, CLEAN and FLAT.

Challenges to 2021 Sea Turtle Nesting Season

Keep the beach flat. Fill in the beach holes! It is a death trap for sea turtles and safety hazards for humans. Several of these holes are common between Crystal Shores and South Beach.

Since 2019 Marco Island has had the highest sea turtle disorientation rate (19 percent) in Collier County as reported by the Collier County Sea Turtle morning monitors. In 2019, the countrywide average was two percent. Marco’s rate was more than six times the county average (19 percent versus two percent). For the 2020 season the disorientation rate on Marco was 16 percent, more than five times the countywide average of three percent of hatched nest disorientation (16 percent versus three percent) based on the county’s 10 beaches.

By the end of sea turtle season in October 2020, Code Enforcement reported 47 cases of sea turtle lighting violations brought before the Code magistrate. Greater enforcement is needed until all lighting on the beach meet Marco’s Sea Turtle’s Lighting Ordinance. 

Hatchling disorientations as reported by the Sea Turtle monitors is a consequence of lights on the beach, not of enforcement. 

Let’s Help our Sea Turtles and their Hatchlings:

Keep the beach clean and dispose of trash properly.

Keep the beach free of chairs, tents, towels, and furniture.

When walking on the beach at night, don’t use flashlights or cell phones. Use only FWC approved flashlights which emit only red light.

Keep the beach dark at night – turn off condo lights at 9:00 PM.


Keep the beach dark. According to Tonya Long of FWC, “if you can see light from the beach, it could potentially be problematic.”


 

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