Hatchling sea turtles take enlightened path to survive
As I See It
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Media contact: Rodney Barreto
Some of the most routine habits we
engage in on a daily basis can occasionally have some serious,
unintended consequences for wildlife, and that is especially so for
imperiled species. Beachcombers out for a relaxing walk with the
family dog may not recognize the signs that their presence has
become a threat to nesting shorebirds and that they should detour
around the area. Homeowners who leave a dirty barbecue grill
in the backyard overnight, or unsecured trash or foodstuffs where
wildlife can access it, can inadvertently create the catalyst for
nuisance wildlife behaviors - with solutions that are palatable to
Young sea turtle hatchlings, trying to
make their escape from the dangers of their sandy birthplace to the
relative safety of the water's edge, may be the poster children for
wildlife that suffer from the unintended side-effects of human
habitation and habit.
Under the best conditions, young sea
turtles still experience high death rates, and only a very small
percentage survive to adulthood. Even before these hatchlings make
it to the relative safety of deeper water, predation by gulls and
threats lurking in the nearby surf are heavy.
Furthermore, if these hatchlings don't
head toward the water to begin with, there's virtually no chance
even a small percentage will survive to return to the same beaches
where their ancestors were born, to lay the eggs that are the
foundation for generations to come.
It usually happens after dark on
beaches throughout Florida on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Sea turtles begin nesting in March on the central-east Florida
coast, with peak nesting from May through August. Nests incubate in
the beach sand from 45 to 60 days during peak nesting season, and
hatching season extends through Oct. 31.
As baby sea turtles start to hatch, a
depression in the sand forms over the nest. The young turtles
work their way to the surface and almost immediately head for the
brightest horizon. Instinct tells these baby turtles that the
sea reflects the greatest amount of light, and their only chance
for survival lies in that direction - away from the darker shadows
of the dunes that line the back of an undeveloped beach. Even
when clouds obscure the stars and moon, the sea surface provides
sufficient reflected light to lure the hatchlings - unless
artificial light from beachfront homes and businesses interferes
with Mother Nature's grand plan.
The bright light at the front door of
people's homes acts as an after-dark guidepost, welcoming them to a
place of safety. But for baby sea turtles, bright, artificial
lights splashing from a home or business toward the beach send them
a false message - that the safety of the water lies in the
direction of the building. It's usually a deadly piece of
misinformation for baby turtles.
Adult female turtles also can suffer
from light-disorientation when they come ashore at night to lay
their eggs. Bright, artificial lights can cause adult turtles to
head in the direction of a busy highway or toward other land-based
Fortunately, there's an easy and
inexpensive fix to protect sea turtles from the disorienting
effects of beach lighting: Simply shield your lights from shining
toward the beach.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission (FWC) recommends lights be shielded
starting on March 1 in Brevard and Broward counties, and May 1 in
all other counties, through Oct. 31 everywhere. If there is a need
to light development landward of the sea turtle nesting beach,
special lighting systems are available. They are designed to
eliminate the turtle's confusion as to which way the water really
There's still another common habit
that can have very serious consequences for baby turtles.
During sea turtle nesting season, furniture should be removed from
the beach at night because it acts as a barrier to the hatchlings.
The delay exposes them to a greater risk of predation. Sometimes
furniture proves an impenetrable barrier that hatchlings can't
Some of the simple things we do and
take for granted on a daily basis can have serious consequences for
wildlife. No matter where you live in Florida, be it on a rural
dirt road or on the beachfront where sea turtles and shorebirds
nest - take a little time to find out about the wildlife in your
area and check local lighting ordinances if you live on the
Visit MyFWC.com or call your nearest
FWC regional office for information about the simple and
inexpensive things you can do in your daily routine to help
conserve and ensure the future for Florida's wildlife.
And to those who already make these
minor adjustments to help wildlife survive for future generations,
a sincere thank you.