On November 14, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced that Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) had been awarded a major grant to support our efforts to address impacts to wildlife from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This significant grant awards STC $1.5 million for a two-year project addressing coastal lighting problems in the Florida Panhandle. Out of the hundreds of project proposals submitted for work in the state of Florida, only six were selected for funding in this first series of grants. This award will allow STC to significantly expand our successful lighting work, which is being overseen by STC’s Lighting Specialist Karen Shudes.
Since STC began conducting lighting retrofit projects in 2010, problem lights at over 80 coastal properties throughout Florida have been retrofitted with sea turtle friendly lighting, helping to restore darkness to over 10.5 miles of prime sea turtle nesting habitat, and saving an estimated 16,000 hatchlings that otherwise would have been disoriented by lights. These results, combined with the financial benefits associated with using energy-efficient LEDs, make this project replicable in other coastal communities where poorly managed artificial lighting degrades nesting habitat.
This new project will greatly increase sea turtle hatchling survivorship on Florida Panhandle nesting beaches by correcting problematic lights on private properties with a history of sea turtle disorientations. The project will target problem lights adjacent to existing dark areas in order to improve contiguous stretches of beach rather than small pockets of habitat. Willing property owners will be identified and complete retrofits of beachfront lights that impact the nesting beach.
Florida hosts over 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the continental United States, including the largest population of loggerheads in the Western Hemisphere and regionally significant nesting populations of green turtles, leatherbacks and Kemp’s ridleys.
As coastal development continues around the state, the problem of beachfront lighting continues to hamper sea turtle recovery efforts. Each year tens of thousands of nesting females and hatchlings are negatively impacted by artificial beachfront lights, with thousands never making it to the sea to help recover these diminished populations, which were particularly impacted by the Gulf oil spill in 2010. While significant funds have been allocated to reduce light pollution on public property, comparatively little funding has been available to bring privately-owned lights into compliance. The counties of the Panhandle of Florida that are targeted in this proposal are part of the Northern Gulf Coast Recovery Unit for loggerhead turtles, which is the nesting assemblage most at risk for this population and whose beaches had the most direct impacts from the spill.
For more background information on STC’s lighting initiatives, you can read our 2011 Velador article, “Addressing Florida’s Beachfront Lighting Problem.” To learn more about STC’s successful lighting work, check out our video, “Darker Beaches, Brighter Future,” which was created to accompany our traveling lighting displays.