Bay County, Florida, considering rescinding its Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance

Date: August 17, 2005
Contact: Gary Appelson
Phone: (352) 373-6441

How You Can Help

In a move that has sent shock waves through the sea turtle conservation community in Florida, the Bay County Commission is set to vote September 6 on whether or not to rescind its 2 year old Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance. Bay County is located in the Florida Panhandle. The largest city in the county is Panama City, which has experienced explosive coastal development in recent years.

All lighting on new shoreline development in Florida adjacent to a turtle nesting beach is regulated under the state’s building codes and must meet sea turtle friendly lighting guidelines. However lighting on older construction is covered by local ordinances.

In 2002 Bay County adopted a pilot sea turtle lighting ordinance covering older construction in the unincorporated beaches in the western end of the county. As a result hatchling disorientations in the coverage area have dropped by almost 50% in two years. In contrast, in Panama City Beach and other parts of the county not covered by the ordinance sea turtle hatchling disorientation have increased by 25%. As a result the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the state have been working with property owners to help them retrofit and install “sea turtle friendly lighting” and have recommended that the county extend its existing lighting ordinance to cover the rest of the county, including Panama City Beach.

Some beach front property owners object to the current lighting ordinance and the idea of making it county-wide. They argue that lights are needed for safety and that government should not be telling private property owners what lights they should have. Interestingly, some of the most vocal opposition comes from the influential owners of a few large hotels that are currently not covered by the ordinance. The hotel owners want to make sure the ordinance is not extended county-wide and are working to have it rescinded. Some of these hotels have large floodlights on their beach side walls and roof tops illuminating wide stretches of beach at night. These hotels have refused to comply with requests from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce their beach side lighting.

Recent research suggests that the nesting population of loggerhead sea turtles in the Panhandle is decreasing by about 3% per year. In addition hatchling disorientations are on the rise. At a time when panhandle governments need to be doing what they can to support sea turtle conservation several Bay County Commissioners seem supportive of reducing protections for sea turtles to accommodate private businesses. Rescinding the lighting ordinance in Bay County would set a very bad precedent in Florida. It would also decrease the chances for a rebound in the declining Panhandle sea turtle nesting population. The County needs to expand its lighting ordinance to the entire county in order to protect federally threatened sea turtles. It should not rescind its existing “pilot” ordinance in order to satisfy a few business interests.

Additional information:
For information on lighting, its impacts on turtles, and how to retrofit older lighting so it is more “sea turtle friendly” see: and


Call, write, or email the county commissioners.

Mike Nelson, (Dist 1) 850-914-0007
George Gainer, Chair (Dist 2) 850-785-1591
Bill Dozier (Dist 3) 850-784-4013 (cell-850-819-6090)
Jerry Girvin (Dist 4) 850-871-3050
Mike Thomas (Dist 5) 850-234-1942

Letters can be sent to the county commissioners at:
Name of Commissioner
PO Box 1818
Panama City, FL, 32402


Dear Commissioner,

Thank you for your work to protect our coastal reseources. However, I am opposed to recent efforts by some to convince the Bay County Board of County Commissioners to rescind its beach front lighting ordinance. The ordinance has been in effect for over two years and has been extremely successful in preventing the disorientations and unnecessary deaths of baby sea turtles. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service disorientations have been reduced by over 50%! The ordinance should even be extended to cover the rest of the county.

Our state is defined by its beaches and coastal environment. The beaches and the wildlife they support belong to all the people of Florida. If you rescind the ordinance and allow an uncontrolled increase in unnecessarily excessive beach front lighting, disorientations will again continue to skyrocket and female turtles will be deterred from coming ashore to nest. Our children will only be able to hear stories of these magnificent creatures that once nested on our beaches. Certainly we can coexist with sea turtles that have been coming to the beaches of Bay County for tens of millions of years. All over the state coastal counties (17) and municipalities (45+) have enacted lighting ordinances to protect sea turtles.

Please do not rescind the sea turtle lighting ordinance.


Below are a series of sample paragraphs covering other issues you can include in your letter. Try to put the ideas into your own words.

  • Floridians place a very high value on the protection of sea turtles and their nesting habitat. State and Federal laws make it a felony to harm, harass or disturb sea turtles or their nesting habitat. Rescinding the ordinance may place the county in violation of the Endangered Species Act!
  • Thousands of Floridians and tourists flock to our beaches every night during nesting season to view nesting turtles. Throughout the state organized sea turtle walks are filled up months in advance.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service is even offering to help pay for lighting changes. Surely the BOCC can figure out a way to convince the small but outspoken minority of coastal residents that dimming their lights during nesting season and protecting sea turtles is in everyone’s best interest.
  • The arguments that the lighting ordinance prevents people from protecting their property and increases crime are simply not based on facts. There is no proof that crime will increase because nobody is talking about making areas unsafe. The goal is to better manage light and keep it where it is needed, around our homes and businesses and off the beach! There is a lot of information on how to retrofit lights on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website: (
  • Some people who complain about the ordinance also qualify for federally subsidized coastal flood insurance or emergency sand dunes and massive beach renourishment projects paid for by the taxpayers. These same people should be willing to dim their lights or redirect them away from the beach to protect our sea turtles.