Lights Out for Sea Turtles

Issue 3, 2014

Lights Out for Sea Turtles

By Gwen Oberholtzer

On June 18th, 2014, an adult loggerhead turtle attempting to nest in Pensacola, Florida, was disoriented by lights from a nearby condo and street lights. This caused her to wander the wrong direction up the beach, through a parking lot, and into the street where she was subsequently struck and killed by a passing vehicle. According to the disorientation report, she had not laid her eggs on the beach prior to this tragic incident.

All sea turtle species are struggling to survive a multitude of threats in today’s environment, but tragic events like this are made more palpable because they are preventable. Unlike many other causes of pollution and disturbance of sea turtle habitat, there are many simple and effective methods for managing lights to meet our needs while reducing impacts to sea turtles. We don’t have to live in total darkness to protect sea turtles. Scientific research and lighting technology have advanced in recent years—leading to new discoveries that allow us to manage light in ways that meet our needs for human safety while using light sources and fixtures that don’t lure nesting sea turtles and hatchlings away from the ocean.

This tragic and gruesome death of an adult loggerhead in Pensacola highlights the urgency of Sea Turtle Conservancy’s (STC) campaign to correct problematic lighting and raise public awareness about available solutions. But we can’t solve this problem by ourselves. Tens of thousands of sea turtle disorientations caused by artificial lighting are reported each year in Florida alone. It is estimated that there are currently between 700 and 1,000 private coastal properties in Florida with poorly-managed lighting causing sea turtle disorientations.

In addition to working directly with beachfront property owners to identify and correct problem lights, STC is undertaking a broad public awareness effort to drive home some simple messages about how people who live near sea turtle nesting beaches can take matters into their own hands and become part of the solution.

In general, we advise coastal property owners to follow these basic guidelines to reduce lighting impacts to sea turtles:

      Keep it LOW – Mount lighting fixtures as low to the ground as possible to avoid being seen from the beach and use the lowest amount of light needed for the task.


      Keep it SHIELDED – Use fixtures that direct light down to the ground or away from the beach and shield the light source from the beach.


      Keep it LONG – Sea turtles are less disturbed by long wavelength light (580 nanometers or longer), such as amber or red LEDs. LED lights will also help reduce your energy costs!


We also remind residents that interior lighting can also be highly visible from the beach and can disorient sea turtles as well. Tactics for addressing this problem include moving lamps away from windows; using window treatments such as drapes to block light from illuminating the beach; and/or using a good quality window tinting with at least 15% transmittance.

To assist beach residents in properly managing their lights, STC recently produced a detailed lighting manual and accompanying DVD called “Darker Beaches, Brighter Futures – A Guide to Sea Turtle Friendly Lighting in Florida.” The manual was developed to serve as a resource to help encourage property owners living in coastal communities to do what is best for sea turtles. The booklet instructs property owners on the best management practices for sea turtle friendly lighting and provides examples of specific light bulbs and fixtures to use for different lighting situations near sea turtle nesting beaches. Inserted into the back cover is an informative DVD about the issue of sea turtle disorientation and how we can all play a role in reducing light pollution in coastal communities.

As more and more coastal property owners utilize sea turtle friendly lighting, people who were once skeptical about it are seeing that new technologies do allow us to manage beachfront lights in ways that provide plenty of illumination for our own needs while keeping the beach itself dark and safe for sea turtles. And new LED lighting has the added benefit of greatly reducing utility costs.

You can learn more about STC’s lighting work and download a free copy of the “Darker Beaches, Brighter Futures – A Guide to Sea Turtle Friendly Lighting in Florida” online at http://www. Please call or email STC to request a DVD copy of the lighting video.