During the summer Caribbean Conservation began hearing rumblings that the Bay County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) was considering rescinding its pilot 3-year-old sea turtle lighting ordinance. The ordinance only covered the unincorporated beaches in the western third of this Florida panhandle county. At the same time the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and local sea turtle advocates were recommending the ordinance be extended to the rest of county, including the developed beaches of Panama City. However, there was strong resistance from a few beachside hotel owners in Panama City against extending the coverage area of the ordinance. Even more shocking was that some hotel owners in the Panama City area were proposing that sea turtle nests be removed from beaches in front of their hotels and relocated to more deserted beaches.
CCC believed that rescinding a sea turtle lighting ordinance to accommodate beachside property owners would set a very bad precedent in Florida and could actually undermine one of the state’s most successful sea turtle protection efforts. Reducing bright lights that unnecessarily illuminate nesting beaches is one of the easiest things residents can do to ensure that people and sea turtles can share the beach. We were particularly incensed that some hotel owners, who rely on the natural beauty of our beaches to draw tourists, would recommend removal of an endangered or threatened species that has been an integral part of the beach ecosystem for millions of years.
CCC sent letters to the Bay County BOCC and other county officials recommending against rescinding the ordinance or nest relocation. An e-mail action alert was sent to our Sea Turtle Action Network, and information was posted on our website, recommending that our members also contact the Bay County BOCC. In August the local newspaper, the Bay County Herald, reported that as a result of CCC’s action alert the commissioners were “receiving letters from as far away as California” pleading with them to not overturn the lighting ordinance.
The Bay County BOCC is no longer considering rescinding the ordinance. However, it is still studying the issue and may yet recommend changes to weaken the ordinance. STSL will continue to monitor this issue and keep our members informed. Thanks to all our members who responded to the action alert. Special thanks goes to the local sea turtle conservation community for spotlighting the issue and to the USFWS for working toward a solution that benefits turtles and is not burdensome to property owners.
It has long been known that commercial shrimping, when left unregulated, kills large numbers of sea turtles that are caught in trawler nets that rake the ocean bottom. Georgia has a large commercial shrimp fishery. Complicating matters for sea turtles is that Georgia also allows commercial and bait cast-netting for shrimp in coastal and estuary waters.
When commercial inshore netting was banned in Florida in the mid 1990s, many Florida cast-netters moved their operations to Georgia. The landing of cast netted shrimp in Georgia jumped from tens of thousands of pounds a year to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Conflicts developed among competing shrimp fisheries, and the impacts to sea turtles increased. In an effort to resolve these conflicts and explore the need for better regulation of the shrimp fishery, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) posted an online survey and began seeking input from shrimpers and the general public.
Thanks to the local sea turtle community in Georgia, CCC was notified of these efforts and asked to weigh in with its concerns. CCC has worked for years to increase the regulation of shrimping to protect sea turtles, sea turtles are highly migratory and actions by one state will definitely impact turtles and conservation measures in other states.
CCC sent out an e-mail action alert to its Sea Turtle Action Network, and you responded. Thanks to all of our members who contacted the Georgia DNR and completed the on-line survey. We have been informed that the DNR is receiving lots of comments in support of stronger protections for sea turtles and that all the comments will be considered as the state develops new and better regulations.
The Georgia DNR will continue to take input from the public through the end of the year. If you have not written to the agency or filled out the on-line survey click here for more information.