Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Blinded by the light: As sea-turtle nests increase, so do disorientations – via Herp Digest

ENVIRONMENT WRITER, The Daytona Beach News Journal,  September 8, 2012.
Jennifer Winters stood on the beach and tried to imagine what light, shining through the night, might have caused 10 newly hatched loggerhead sea turtles to wander north on the beach instead of heading to the ocean.
Winters, who manages Volusia County's beachfront habitat conservation program, could see several possible distractions, which she noted on a clipboard lit by a set of tiny LED lights.
Was it the bright light glowing out of a parking garage? Unshielded streetlights across A1A? Or a lamp on a deck pointed out toward the beach instead of illuminating the sidewalk?
All are technical violations of the county's lighting ordinance, a stipulation of the federal permit that allows Volusia beaches to remain open to driving. Winters would later notify property owners that their lights weren't in compliance.
Flagler also has a lighting program aimed at keeping property owners in line with a county ordinance designed to prevent distractions to turtle hatchlings to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
County officials routinely try to educate beachfront property owners and have worked with the Sea Turtle Conservancy to coordinate grants for properties to correct lighting violations. But despite these efforts and the rules in place for more than a decade, dozens of violations are found each summer.
And, hundreds of sea turtle hatchlings are reported disoriented by volunteer monitors who sometimes find them in the morning or see the trail where the hatchlings trekked along the beach before finding their way to the waves.
This summer has been a busy one for sea turtles, with record numbers of females digging nests and depositing eggs along the beach. More than 1,480 nests have been counted on Volusia and Flagler beaches north of Canaveral National Seashore, and officials say more than 50,000 eggs have hatched in Volusia alone.
Disorientation events also have increased.
By the end of August, of the 582 nests that were evaluated on Volusia beaches so far, more than 1,450 hatchlings from 36 nests have been disoriented, Winters reported. In Flagler, turtle hatchlings have wandered away from at least six of the more than 260 nests that have hatched so far, said Beth Libert, of the Volusia-Flagler Turtle Patrol.
In the last several weeks, dead hatchlings have been collected on State Road A1A in Daytona Beach and Flagler Beach.
Each event prompts a visit from Winters or a colleague. This summer the county has about 185 open lighting cases as it tries to enforce the ordinance and monitor the lights that can disrupt the turtle hatchlings or lead them to their deaths.
Many property owners along the beach have voluntarily complied with the ordinances over the years, said officials in both counties. Other property owners just turn off offending lights during the season. And others play a cat and mouse game, leaving non-complying lights on until they hear from the county. Sometimes, lighting problems occur when properties are sold and new owners take over.
"It's frustrating," said Winters.
One formerly brightly lit location on the beach has had a makeover and now sports a new low light profile. The Ocean Walk Resort Condominium Association just completed a major retrofit project to redo all of its lighting along the beach and pool area, installing new shielded light fixtures and lower wave length and/or amber colored lights instead of incandescent bulbs.
On a recent Friday night, Winters walked the pool deck area there with Anne Delude, the on-site community association manager, and Karen Shudes with the Sea Turtle Conservancy. The project was accomplished in part by a grant the conservancy administers.
"I'm so thrilled with the final product," Delude said. "I couldn't have envisioned this."
It's better for guest safety and better for the turtles, she said. Residents and guests can see better and the ambience improved.
Delude said the association "couldn't have done it" without the Sea Turtle Conservancy, which administers a BP grant program, funded by the sale of crude oil recovered at the site of the company's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
A first round of the grant program helped pay for improvements at Volusia County's Marine Science Center and other sea turtle rehabilitation facilities around the state. A second round of funding was used to help pay for lighting retrofits at facilities along East Coast beaches most frequently visited by nesting sea turtles.
The conservancy also has worked with the Coral Sands Resort and Cottages and the Indies House in Ormond Beach and Sea Coast Gardens in New Smyrna Beach.
The grant to the Ocean Walk paid about half the cost of the $50,000 retrofit, said Shudes.
The Friday night walk was Shudes' first look at the final project and she was happy with the end result.
"It's my hope that other adjacent properties will follow suit and we continue that stretch of darkened habitat for nesting sea turtles and hatchlings," she said.
Hotels and condominiums can achieve the candle requirements for keeping their pools open at night, she said. "We're hearing positive feedback from property owners and guests."
Both Delude and Shudes said guests find the amber-colored lights more soft and pleasing, she said. "It kind of reminds them of candlelight," said Shudes.
"It was actually harder to see with the brighter lights because your eyes were adjusting from really bright light," said Shudes. "Your pupils allow more light in so you can use your adaptive night vision."
Guests can see better and there are fewer shadows, Delude said. "That's the key to guest safety and security."
Shudes said other facilities along the coast are finding that the 70-percent more efficient LED lights are "extremely energy efficient."
Elsewhere along the beach in its other lighting cases, Volusia County is working with property owners to resolve problems, Winters said.
Cases that can't be resolved are sent to the code enforcement board for follow up and enforcement, including fines.
Not everyone is happy with the county's approach. Turtle advocates would like to see the county take a more hard-line approach to pursue violations of the ordinance.
For example, Shirley Reynolds, who once sued the county on behalf of sea turtles, routinely calls the county to task for failing to do enough to enforce the lighting rules.
Others say the county staff is stretched too thin to adequately address the problems. At times in the past, the county had two full-time staff devoted to enforcing the lighting ordinance. This summer, the one position allocated for that task has been vacant and Winters and a colleague are sharing the work.
Winters said they hope to hire someone to fill the position shortly.
Volusia's Lighting Rules
Light fixtures shall be designed, positioned, shielded or otherwise modified such that the source of light and any reflective surfaces of the fixture shall not be directly visible by a person who is in a standing position on the beach. With the exception of a small area of the beach in downtown Daytona Beach that is exempt from the regulations, any source of light or reflective surface of the fixture visible from the beach is a violation (regardless of color).
Lights shall not directly or indirectly illuminate the beach during the sea turtle nesting season. County officials advise using long wavelength (red or amber LED) lights or low wattage bulbs along with shielded fixtures to reduce beach illumination. Light trespassing onto the beach is beach illumination and is a violation of the ordinance.
Tinted glass, or any window film applied to window glass which meet the shading criteria for tinted glass, shall be installed on all windows of single- or multistory buildings or structures within line of sight of the beach in the regulated boundaries.

Lights illuminating signs shall be shielded or screened such that they do not illuminate the beach and the source of the light shall not be visible by a person who is in a standing position on the beach.

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