Sea Turtles Experience Highs and Lows in 2001

Winter 2002 Issue Articles:

* Sea Turtles Experience Highs and Lows in 2001

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Sea Turtles Experience Highs and Lows in 2001

By Gary Appelson & David Godfrey

New land purchase in Archie Carr Refuge

The recently purchased parcel in the Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge has a nesting density of nearly 1000 nests per mile.

For much of 2001, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) and a handful of other conservation organizations worked hard to secure federal funding to purchase a large parcel of undeveloped beachfront land in the northern part of the Archie Carr Refuge. The parcel, known as Aquarina, was under threat of intense development, and parts of the parcel were being developed even as funding for protection was being sought. The Aquarina tract is located along some of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the world, with nesting densities in the area of about 600 nest per kilometer. The effort to find federal dollars last year came to a halt after September 11, as key legislators turned their attention to other pressing issues and responsibilities.

The Conservation Fund (CF) had been spearheading the effort to negotiate the acquisition for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). However with no federal dollars the acquisition was in doubt. The CF is a non-profit national organization which helps local, state and federal agencies, and non-profit organizations acquire property from willing sellers in order to protect open space, wildlife habitat, public recreation areas, river corridors and historic places. When federal funding appeared to be lost, the CF and others began to look at alternatives to fund the acquisition. In November of last year, CF purchased about half of the Aquarina parcel, with the intent of transferring it to the USFWS. The Brevard County Endangered Lands Program then purchased the remaining undeveloped parcel. So, through hard work and partnerships, some globally important sea turtle nesting areas will now be preserved in perpetuity. A special thank you goes out to CF, Brevard County, the Philippe Cousteau Foundation and The Ocean Conservancy and other groups.

Imbedded lights reduce sea turtle disorientations

Embedded road lights called “smartstuds” help reduce artificial lighting and hatchling disorientations in Boca Raton, Fla. Image Courtesy of Gumbo Kirt Rusenko

A new type of street lighting was tested during the 2001 sea turtle nesting along a stretch of coastal road in Boca Raton, Florida. The new system used lights that are imbedded in the road and produce significantly less light on the adjacent beach than conventional street pole lights. The project area covered 0.65 miles of beach side road.

Research has shown that hatchling sea turtles generally crawl toward the brightest sources of light. Many hatchlings may die after becoming disorientated by artificial lights, such as street lights or outside lights on houses, hotels or condominiums. The hatchlings wander toward the bright lights and into an array of hazards, including being run over by cars or dying of dehydration.

Kirt Rusenko, Marine Conservationist with the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, recorded 20 disoriented nests in 1999 and 14 disoriented nests in 2000. During the 2001 nesting season with the embedded light system, no disorientations were reported! While these new lights may not work along every stretch of road that runs along a nesting beach, it is a step toward an effective alternative to some beach front lighting problems. The Florida Department of Transportation is developing guidelines for the use of these lights on other coastal roadways, and STSL will be supporting their widespread use.

Emergency armoring permits illegally issued

Coquina rock was illegally authorized under a misinterperation of Florida’s Emergency Armoring Rule in Melbourne, Fla., just north of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

Forty percent of Florida’s beaches are critically eroding. Consequently, large scale engineering efforts to protect coastal properties are increasing in frequency and magnitude. Beach engineering projects are now impacting critical sea turtle nesting beaches, including beaches in and adjacent to the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, some negative impacts to sea turtles cannot be avoided. However, CCC is trying to make sure that long-term cumulative impacts from these projects are no longer ignored. Few citizens or environmental organizations outside of the sea turtle conservation community seem to be paying close attention.

In November 2001, CCC learned that the town of Melbourne Beach was illegally authorizing permanent “emergency armoring” in the form of rock revetments or walls. The state’s emergency armoring statutes only allow local governments to authorize the construction of temporary structures – those that can be easily removed. Rock walls are considered permanent structures. Property owners then have the option to apply for a state permit to construct a permanent structure if conditions warrant it. Adding to the controversy, the city of Melbourne Beach only issued emergency armoring permits for two lots, but armoring was being constructed on six lots. Homeowners were dumping truckloads of coquina rock on the beach in front of their properties. Making matters worse, the coquina rock was mixed with concrete construction debris, which is explicitly prohibited by state statute.

CCC notified DEP’s office of Beaches and Coastal Systems. As a result, property owners have now been cited for violations of state statutes and proper permitting procedures are being put into place. This illegal armoring was authorized just north of the Carr Refuge, in an area that supports some of the densest sea turtle nesting in the hemisphere.