It’s that time of year again. May marks the beginning of sea turtle nesting season, which will carry on through October. Sea turtle protection advocates this time of the year are typically discussing pollution prevention and lighting restrictions. Hatchlings that emerge from their nests at night make their way to the brightest horizon, and if they are misguided by light sources along the beach that outshine the stars, they are not likely to survive.
Of course, there are a few other factors complicating turtle nesting season this year. Wildlife biologists fear the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will wipe out the sea turtle population. Even if the spill stays away from Florida’s east coast, it will still have an impact there because sea turtles swim in the Gulf through migratory patterns.
On Padre Island, Texas, federal officials have reported 156 sea turtle deaths so far. They can’t automatically attribute those to the oil spill, but they say the number is far higher than last year at this point in the season. Sea turtles have made a fragile comeback since the 1979 Ixtoc spill.
The only bright side to this year’s turtle nesting season is in lighting technology. Recent innovations have eliminated turtle deaths caused by unnatural light sources on the beach. Scientists discovered that red and amber LED light is actually invisible to sea turtles, and many beachfront areas have taken that into consideration to develop safe lighting for the nesting season and protect the endangered species.
In January, Bradenton Beach, FL completed installation of amber-colored LED street lights that face the beach with full-cutoff non-glare luminaries. The lights will be virtually undetectable to sea turtles that emerge from the ocean to lay their eggs, and to the hatchlings that make their way back to the sea 7-8 weeks later. The street lights will also save Bradenton Beach a substantial amount of money on energy costs.
Unfortunately, the oil spill added another layer to the problem. The good news is that future turtle nesting seasons will be better protected as beachfront areas continue to adopt red or amber LED lighting.