By Gary Appelson
Every year in Florida, tens of thousands of sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests and head inland or wander aimlessly along the beach rather than quickly scurrying into the surf. These turtles are disoriented by artificial lights from buildings, roads and infrastructure that interfere with the sea-finding ability of hatchlings. Disorientations are a major source of hatchling mortality, but the problem can be eliminated or greatly reduced through proper management of artificial lighting near nesting beaches.
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) teamed up with the Conservation Clinic (the Clinic) at the University of Florida College of Law to assess and improve the effectiveness of local lighting regulations, which are supposed to help protect sea turtles. Clinic students and faculty reviewed the current regulatory framework for protecting sea turtles from the adverse effects of artificial lighting. The Clinic then worked with STC’s lighting experts to develop a set of “best lighting practices” and tested current local ordinances against these best practices. The Clinic concluded that advances in lighting technology and a greater understanding of how sea turtles respond to lighting rendered many existing ordinances outdated.
The Clinic worked with STC to draft a new model lighting ordinance that reflects current state of the art “sea turtle friendly” lighting. The model can be used as a basis for replacing or modifying existing ordinances that fall short or by coastal governments seeking to establish their first ordinances to protect sea turtles from beachfront lighting. In addition, the Clinic drafted a set of governing documents for planned communities and homeowner associations wishing to address beachfront lighting. Both of these legal instruments encourage the use of effective new technologies. Each document was reviewed by attorneys knowledgeable in local government and community association law, as well as a representative of the regulated coastal development community. Local government and sea turtle advocates should be careful to consider local circumstances when developing new ordinances. The model is intended to be a guide to best practices, not a “one size fits all” approach.
The full report can be found online at http://www.law.ufl.edu/academics/clinics/conservation-clinic.
STC thanks the Clinic and its students for their excellent work on behalf of the long-term recovery of sea turtle populations in Florida and elsewhere.