Shedding Light on Sea Turtle Lighting

Shedding Light on Sea Turtle Lighting

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and coastal local governments regulate what lighting is permitted to avoid and minimize the impacts to sea turtles, but why is artificial coastal lighting a problem? In the southeastern United States, sea turtle hatchlings begin to hatch throughout the months of June through October, most often at night when the sand becomes cool. Sea turtle hatchlings have the instinct to move towards the brightest direction. On a natural, unlit beach, the brightest direction is most often the horizon line where the moon is reflected by the ocean. Artificial light from coastal developments can result in the disorientation and subsequent death of thousands of hatchlings each year in Florida.

These guidelines provide general information for all property owners living adjacent to sea turtle nesting beaches, but they are specifically designed to help property owners avoid and minimize lighting impacts to sea turtles as part of the State permitting programs, such as Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) permits, and Environmental Resource Permits (ERP). In the permitting process, coastal property owners including community associations must minimize all lights that may be visible from the beach, including all exterior, structural, decorative, and landscape lighting. This includes interior light visible through glass windows, doors, and walls (either facing or perpendicular to the beach) as well as light from pools, fire pits, electronic devices such as televisions, tiki torches, etc. FWC recommends coastal property owners follow the three “golden rules” when installing or modifying lights. All three must be used in combination to be effective – Keep It Low, Keep It Shielded, and Keep it Long (wavelength).

If you or your community association have questions about navigating the layers of sea turtle lighting regulation when installing or modifying lighting, please reach out to us. We look forward to assisting you.

As a shareholder land use and community association attorney and certified land planner who is a Board Certified Specialist in City, County, and Local Government Law, Kathleen O. Berkey, B.C.S., AICP, guides clients through all facets of land use and zoning issues including code compliance, enforcement hearings, and negotiations with local government among other matters. Ms. Berkey can be reached at kberkey@beckerlawyers.com.