Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is excited to announce a major expansion of its sea turtle-friendly lighting retrofit program. Through a recently-approved four-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, STC will now be able to retrofit beachfront properties along the entire southwest coast of Florida. NFWF began supporting STC’s lighting retrofit work in 2010, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, as a way to mitigate the impacts of the spill on Florida’s sea turtle nesting populations. Since 2014, the project has focused on lighting retrofits solely in the Florida panhandle. Under this newly-approved grant, STC’s lighting team will now target the southwest region with the same goals of reducing sea turtle disorientations and improving the quality of nesting beaches by eliminating problematic artificial lighting on the coast.
“The project has been very successful in other parts of the state. We’ve already darkened over 27 miles of nesting habitat and seen disorientation rates decrease to essentially 0% in front of the properties we’ve retrofitted! STC plans to continue making this kind of positive impact on Florida’s southwest coast,” said Rachel Tighe, STC Lighting Project Manager.
STC will spend the first half of this year collecting preliminary data about disorientation rates in different coastal communities and identifying problem properties in this heavily-populated region, which spans nearly 200 miles of coastline from Clearwater to Naples and hosts the highest density of sea turtle nesting on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The grant will allow STC to retrofit properties across six coastal counties. Many beaches in this region see hundreds of sea turtle nests each season; unfortunately, hatchling disorientation rates on these beaches are among the highest in the state. STC will address this growing problem by retrofitting the exterior lights on beachfront businesses, multi-story condominiums, and resorts lining the coast. The grant also allows STC to conduct dune vegetation enhancements at retrofitted properties to serve as a natural barrier to block artificial light from the nesting beach.
As the project gets underway, STC already is working with property managers, code enforcement officers and local sea turtle monitors to pinpoint areas of the beach and specific properties that will benefit the most from retrofits.
“It’s important to spend the necessary time strategizing our approach due to the sheer size of the southwest coast and the amount of disorientations that occur in the area. We want to make sure STC tackles problematic properties in the most efficient way possible in order to create darker beaches and better nesting habitat for sea turtles,” Tighe said.
The project will encompass more geographical area along the Florida coast than any past lighting project headed by STC. A portion of the new grant funding also will allow STC to conduct light management training workshops in southwest Florida. These workshops, which are targeted toward local code enforcement officials and building design professionals, will help expand awareness about and use of the latest sea turtle friendly lighting technologies. Funding to expand these training workshops also has been provided by the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research and the Disney Conservation Fund.
To help achieve all the goals of the project, STC recently hired two additional sea turtle lighting specialists, who will now join our experienced lighting team. Together, STC’s five-member lighting team will be responsible for gathering data about disorientation rates; identifying problematic properties; negotiating with property owners and lighting suppliers; designing and overseeing lighting retrofits; conducting light management workshops and conducting other educational outreach efforts around Florida.
STC already is receiving interest from property owners in southwest Florida that would like to retrofit problematic lights at their properties, and we welcome suggestions from local sea turtle groups and members of the public that will help our lighting team identify areas of concern. If you live in Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee or Collier County and are interested in retrofitting your beachfront property, please contact STC at 352-373-6441. You can learn more about STC’s grant progress at www.conserveturtles.org/stc-beachfront-lighting-program.