Every year, the Florida Legislature, made up of 120 House members and 40 Senate members, convenes to pass legislation. STC closely monitors bills and policies that could positively or negatively impact Florida’s sea turtles and their habitats and, when necessary, calls upon its members and followers to contact legislators about these policies. Outside of the Legislative Session, STC also monitors proposals that could impact sea turtles. Below are STC’s advocacy priorities for 2023.
HB 91/SB 1512 – Release of Balloons
Bill sponsor: Representative Chaney and Senator Pizzo
Bill summary: STC supports the passage of H.B. 91 – Release of Balloons. The passage of this bill would close a loophole allowing countless balloons to enter our waterways and kill marine life, including sea turtles. Currently, Florida Statute 379.233 prohibits the release of ten or more balloons per day, but makes an exception for “biodegradable” balloons, which is not scientifically sound. By removing these two loopholes, as read in H.B. 91, Florida can drastically reduce plastic debris in the marine environment and save countless marine animals.
The problem to be addressed: A major threat to sea turtles is the ingestion of or entanglement with marine debris, including single-use balloons. Although many Floridians participate in balloon releases as part of a celebration or to honor a loved one, once balloons are released, they can travel thousands of miles before landing. When a balloon bursts and lands in the ocean, sea turtles and other marine wildlife often consume it because of its resemblance to jellyfish. Sea turtles are unable to regurgitate, so once the balloon enters the digestive tract, it can cause an impaction that can lead to death.
The ribbon attached to balloons also wraps around the flippers or necks of sea turtles, inhibiting breathing, eating or swimming. People who monitor sea turtle nesting around Florida report seeing balloons on nesting beaches on an almost-daily basis. Sea turtle rehabilitation facilities in Florida spend hours removing balloon material and other plastic debris from stranded sea turtles. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has numerous records of sea turtle deaths associated with balloons.
Action needed: Urge your Florida Senator and Representative to support HB 91/SB 1512!
HB 1489/SB 1686: Designation of Brevard Barrier Island Area as Area of Critical State Concern
Bill Sponsor: Representative Altman and Senator Wright
Bill Summary: STC supports the passage of HB 1489/SB 1686. The passage of this bill would serve as a statewide recognition of the critical importance of the Brevard Barrier Island Area, which encompasses the Indian River Lagoon and the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. The bill creates a legislative intent to prevent the adverse impact of coastal development, reduce nutrient sources contributing to poor water quality within the Indian River Lagoon, protect shoreline and marine resources, and ensure that development is compatible with the Barrier Island Area’s unique resources.
The problem to be addressed: Like many places in Florida, Brevard County’s unique coastal and marine resources are under threat from overdevelopment. The southern barrier island of Brevard County represents one of the most fragile and endangered coastal ecosystems in North America and the beaches, dunes, coastal scrub, and maritime hammock areas of the barrier island ecosystem represent some of the most fragile and endangered natural upland communities in the state and nation. In particular, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge hosts the highest aggregation of loggerhead sea turtles in the United States and the Indian River Lagoon serves as important developmental habitat for a variety of species. By creating a special State designation and recommending density restrictions for this area, this bill would solidify the State’s commitment to policies that would not further harm the ecosystems and wildlife that inhabit it.
Action needed: HB 1489 passed favorably through its first committee stop on 3/21/23! We will keep you updated when the bill reaches its next committee stops.
CS/SB 170 – Local Ordinances
Bill Sponsor: Senator Trumbull
Bill summary: STC is opposed to S.B. 170 – Local Ordinances. The passage of this bill would require local governments, before enacting or updating new ordinances, to prepare a “business impact estimate” that would demonstrate the cost that the ordinance could impose on every business in a local government’s jurisdiction. It would allow any business to sue the local government in opposition to an ordinance, and would require the local government to stop all enforcement of the ordinance while litigation was underway. It would also allow that business, if it prevailed in litigation, to recover attorney fees from the local government. Not only would this bill have a “chilling effect” on local governments’ ability to enact laws to protect their local environment, but it would also freeze the enforcement of crucially important ordinances that protect Florida’s sea turtles from disorientation.
How this bill could harm sea turtles: The State of Florida leaves it to county and city governments to adopt and enforce their own beachfront lighting ordinances, which regulate harmful artificial lighting during sea turtle nesting season to prevent sea turtle disorientation. This means that the responsibility of protection Florida’s sea turtle populations – many of which are globally-important – ultimately falls on local governments and their ability to adopt and enforce these protection ordinances. If local governments are unable to enact or strengthen their existing, outdated ordinances, it is not an exaggeration to say that thousands of protected sea turtles may die each year. In addition, if an ordinance is suspended while litigation is occurring, it would mean that artificial light on that area’s beach would not be regulated, and more disorientations could occur. It would also leave the State and local governments vulnerable to Endangered Species Act litigation, as disorientation by artificial light is considered “take” of a federally-protected species.
Action needed: SB 170 will be heard and voted on in the Florida House during the 2023 Legislative Session (March 7 – May 5). Please contact your Florida House member and urge them to vote “no” on this bill.
H.B. 359/S.B. 540 – Local Comprehensive Plans
Bill Sponsors: Representative Duggan and Senator DiCeglie
Bill Summary: STC is opposed to H.B. 359/S.B. 420. The passage of this bill would allow prevailing parties to recover attorney fees in challenges to local comprehensive plans and plan amendments. If a local citizen wanted to challenge a proposed change to a comprehensive plan or an existing comprehensive plan and loses, they will be responsible for paying for the developers’ or local governments’ attorney fees. This would prevent most citizens from challenging a comprehensive plan or amendment.
How this bill could harm sea turtles: Local comprehensive plans are a local government’s way to set limits on growth and development within its jurisdiction. A comprehensive plan could limit development in a highly vulnerable coastal area, for example, which would protect sea turtles and their nesting habitats. If an amendment application to a comprehensive plan would result in an increase in coastal density, it could greatly impact the beach dynamics by adding additional problematic lighting, activity on the beach, and high rises. Allowing for denser development also increases the amount of impermeable structures near waterways, leading to decreased water quality, which can result in seagrass die-offs.
Action needed: H.B. 359/S.B. 540 will be heard during the 2023 Legislative Session (March 7 – May 5). Check back here during the Session for up-to-date action items.
Brevard County Comprehensive Plan Amendment
Issue Summary: STC opposes the Brevard County Commission’s plan to amend the existing Comprehensive Plan to allow for greater residential density along Brevard County’s South Beaches. Most of the development along the Refuge consists of single-family homes and smaller businesses that are intertwined with publicly-owned parcels. This unique patchwork of public conservation land and relatively low-impact development has proven to be very resilient, while at the same time providing critical nesting habitat for sea turtles. The proposed amendment would allow high-rise condominiums and resorts along Brevard County’s South Beaches.
How this change could harm sea turtles: The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-mile stretch of beach spanning from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso Beach, is the site of the largest aggregation of loggerhead sea turtle nesting in the world. It’s also the most important nesting area for green turtles in the United States. The Refuge saw more than 30,000 sea turtle nests in 2022 alone. By allowing denser development in this highly sensitive ecosystem, more problematic lighting, activity on the beach, and poorly managed coastal construction could hinder the delicate balance between the sea turtle nesting population and Brevard County’s residents and visitors. Given all of the funding and effort it has taken to establish the Carr Refuge, the declining health of the Indian River Lagoon, and the impacts of recent hurricanes on highly-developed beaches – increasing residential density on this barrier island is the last thing any of us should want to see happen.
Action needed: Brevard County residents and Florida sea turtle supporters at large can contact the Brevard County Commission and tell them to rescind their request to amend the Comprehensive Plan. The Brevard County Commission can be found here: https://www.brevardfl.gov/Contact. Brevard County-area state legislators should also be informed of this change and can encourage the Department of Economic Opportunity (the state agency that reviews Comprehensive Plan Amendment proposals) to reject the application. Find Brevard County-area state legislators by clinking the links at the bottom of this page.
Volusia County Coastal Construction Activities
Issue Summary: Hurricanes Ian and Nicole struck Volusia County in quick succession in 2022, leading to severe beach erosion that has undermined thousands of coastal homes and businesses. As state law currently reads, no coastal construction activities can occur during sea turtle nesting season (May 1 – October 31). As coastal homeowners and business owners scramble to shore up their homes ahead of the 2023 hurricane season, many have cited this rule as a barrier to repairing broken sea walls or adding in other types of erosion control methods. Some have also proposed using rock revetments, or piles of rocks dumped onto the sand, as a method to stop beach erosion in front of their property. STC wants to ensure that state and federal sea turtle protection laws are followed as coastal homeowners repair their homes and that the least invasive methods to sea turtles are used to manage beach erosion.
How this issue could harm sea turtles: Sea turtles do require dry sand to nest successfully; however, despite the extensive erosion and debris on Volusia County beaches, in our experience it is a 100% certainty that sea turtles will return to nest in Volusia County this May—and they will find suitable habitat in which to deposit their eggs. If construction activities are allowed to proceed on this beach during nesting season, nesting adult sea turtles and the thousands of eggs they deposit will be vulnerable to “take” as defined under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The only way for construction to take place during the nesting season, legally, is to have a federally-issued Incidental Take Permit (ITP) that covers the activity occurring.
It has been proposed that any sea turtle nests deposited in construction areas could simply be moved. While this is done in limited situations around Florida, the relocation of nests to allow for beach construction activity is also something that causes a “take” of sea turtles, and thus an Incidental Take Permit would also be required for this activity. Relocating nests typically lowers hatching success rates (i.e. kills some percentage of eggs), disrupts natural sex ratios (the sex of hatchlings is determined by temperatures during the nest incubation process) and concentrates eggs and hatchlings making them more vulnerable to predation and other unanticipated disturbances. Without an approved ITP, the potential relocation of hundreds of nests in Volusia County would violate federal law.
STC supports the enforcement of coastal construction laws as they stand now, particularly restrictions on siting of seawalls and the timing of construction activities. STC supports replacing damaged seawalls that were already in place using the existing guidelines that require the placement of seawalls as “far landward as practicable.” Thus, we are strongly opposed to the idea of replacing vertical walls with rock revetments. Rock revetments extend much further onto the beach than vertical walls, resulting in greater impacts on sea turtle nesting habitat and the natural beach system. While we understand that owners of beachfront properties impacted by coastal erosion are seeking relief, we ask Florida’s lawmakers to represent the interests of all Floridians. We believe it is in the greater interest of the State of Florida, its citizens, our property insurance market, our coastal tourism economy, and sea turtles to uphold existing laws.
Florida residents and organizations can have the most influence by directly contacting legislators in their district. If you are unsure who your Florida Senator or Representative is, click the links below:
Find Florida Senators: https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/find
Find members of the Florida House Representative: https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/findyourrepresentative
While sending an email about a bill or policy can be an effective way to reach a legislator, calling and stating your concerns is more effective, and attending committee meetings where bills will be considered and signing up to speak is even more effective.
How non-Floridians can help
People residing outside the state of Florida can still make a difference for sea turtles. If you are concerned about a bill or policy, please contact the relevant entity mentioned in each “action needed” section.
If you have additional questions about STC’s Advocacy Priorities, please email Stacey Gallagher at email@example.com.