Helping Sea Turtles

Sea TurtleFor those of you dropping by Green Orlando on a monthly basis, sea turtles are a topic you’ve heard about before. From day one its publisher, Eric Needle, has been inspired by the story of sea turtles and the efforts citizens of this county have made to help protect these summer visitors. Brevard County and each of the municipalities in the county have lighting ordinances established to reduce the effects of lights illuminating the beach, which disorients nesting females and the hatchlings emerging a couple of months later. It’s a concerted effort by citizens throughout the county, to do what we can to help these imperiled reptiles and it’s easy. Seeing a massive nesting sea turtle or a cute hatchling is usually enough to illicit an emotional response from most everyone and when we’re tied emotionally to these creatures we work towards protecting them. Turning off beachfront lights is a great start, and every year concerned citizens, business owners, and municipalities know it’s time for “Lights Out” during sea turtles nesting season from May 1st to October 31st. Sea TurtleThousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles nest on Brevard County’s beaches each year. Toward the end of June, hatchlings begin to emerge from their nests and orient themselves toward the brightest visible horizon in an attempt to find the sea. Lights from beachfront structures that shine or reflect onto the beach disrupt this instinctive process and disorient the hatchlings causing them to crawl toward the artificial light instead of crawling to the sea. Disoriented hatchlings often get tangled in dune vegetation, eaten by predators, flattened by vehicles, or die from exhaustion or dehydration. Even those who eventually find the ocean may have used up so much energy on the beach that they die before they find food. It is estimated that only 1 out of every 1,000 hatchlings manages to survive to adulthood. Turtle Friendly Lighting To prevent hatchling disorientation, all indoor and exterior lights that are visible from the beach should be shielded, repositioned, replaced, or turned off after 9 pm during sea turtle season. Because adult nesting females can also be disoriented by improper lighting, lighting ordinances apply from May 1 – October 31. Brevard County and the beachfront municipalities have lighting ordinances in place to regulate beachfront lights. County Code enforcement officers actively patrol the unincorporated beaches during nesting season to ensure compliance. For the 2004, 2005, & 2006, turtle nesting seasons, the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office (NRMO) is receiving federal funding for two part-time employees to perform lighting compliance surveys on all non-federal beaches in Brevard County. Survey data collected in local municipalities is provided to the proper authority for education and/or enforcement. For

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questions regarding beachfront lighting, copies of educational brochures, a demonstration of turtle friendly lighting fixtures, or to discuss available lighting options, please call 321-633-2016 ext. 52431 or email paula.berntson@brevardcounty.us. But is this all we really need to do to help sea turtles? Aren’t they doing ok? The answer is a big NO! Some of the efforts underway to ensure the long term survival of sea turtles, both federally and at the state level, are things we may not choose to get involved in. After all, are we lobbyists, politicians, and lawyers? Maybe not, we can all be lobbyists by contacting our representatives when we see things heading in the wrong direction but what can you really do? Most of us are more interested in the things

we can control directly, like our personal actions. “Ok, so what more

can I do to help sea turtles?” you may ask. You can start being a better friend to sea turtles by enrolling in the NESTS program. NESTS
NEST Neighbors Ensuring Sea Turtle Survival provides some simple activities for beachside homeowners and homeowners associations to complete to help protect sea turtles and their nesting habitats. The program is sponsored by federal, state, and local organizations and agencies such as the Caribbean Conservation Commission, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, Walt Disney World, The Ocean Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of the Archie Carr Refuge, the Brevard Zoo, and the Florida Park Service. The activities they’ve designed were established to share information, help the public become more informed, and enable the public to make the right choices to assist nesting turtles and hatchlings. There are three levels of certification each involving the completion of certain activities, many of which are simple like attending a presentation on sea turtles, shielding lights, and spreading the word about sea turtles to others. Each level of completion comes with a decal and a certificate for you to proudly display! The program originally was focused on residents living in and around the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge between Melbourne Beach and Vero Beach. This year the program is being expanded throughout Brevard and many other counties in the state. If your concerns for sea turtles survival have you interested in doing more, get involved in the NESTS program. I recently saw a quote that said “Become the change you wish to see in the world”. Here’s your chance to make the change happen! For more information visit their website at www.nests-certified.org or contact the NESTS Program at 352-373-6441 or nests@cccturtle.org

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