STC’s lighting team is working in the Florida Panhandle to fund the efforts of willing private beachfront property owners, associations and property managers to restore native dune vegetation. This restoration encourages the growth of healthy dunes and provides a natural light screen to protect nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings from the harmful effects of artificial light. Planting native dune vegetation also serves to trap and stabilize sand, contributing to a taller and wider dune environment that provides increased protection against erosion and reduces the amount of artificial light pollution reaching sea turtle nesting habitat.
Several properties in Walton County targeted for lighting retrofits participated in enhancements to natural buffers on their properties. STC consulted with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, local marine turtle permit holders, property managers, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local contractors in Walton County in order to coordinate and complete dune projects prior to the start of sea turtle nesting season, which commenced May 1st in Panhandle counties.
Frederique Beroset of Dune Doctors provided guidance to ensure dune planting best management practices were followed. These included surveying the existing natural plant community, selecting plants appropriate for site conditions, designing plant layout to maximize success, planting during the right time, monitoring plant survival, and avoiding impacts to nesting shorebirds. Some of the projects included installation of sand fencing according to Department of Environmental Protection standards to help gradually build up dunes; however, STC did not contribute funding toward installation of sand fencing since these structures sometimes can present obstacle for nesting sea turtles. In cases where they were used, STC provided recommendations to avoid potential impacts to turtles.
In all, a total of 10 dune enhancement projects, ranging from small to extremely large resort type properties were completed in the spring of 2015. A mixture of native grass and groundcover species were utilized for plant community diversity. Native plant species selected for the projects consisted of Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata), Dune Panic Grass (Panicum amarum), Seashore Elder (Iva imbricata), Sea Purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), and Morning Glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae). This project resulted in a total of 43,090 square feet of beach planted and 13,021 native plants being added to the dune system in Walton County.
These dune enhancement projects, which were part of STC’s Florida Panhandle Lighting program, were funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. Not only will these enhancements help sea turtle hatchlings safely reach the sea, they will benefit shorebirds and beach mice.