In Marco Island, like similar coastal cities in Florida, residents and visitors share the beach with endangered and threatened sea turtles. Hotels and beachfront property owners display bright lights at night that jeopardizes the habitats of these endangered marine sea turtles.
Florida is a major sea turtle habitat state, and according to experts, during the summer there are thousands of nesting sea turtles in Florida. This makes Marco’s beaches an important seasonal nesting habitat for sea turtles from May 1st to October 31st.
Under Federal and State law, these sea turtles are now endangered and are close to extinction. The Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act (FMTPA) states that Florida has more endangered sea turtle species (loggerhead, leatherback, and green) than any other state. Based on this fact, Florida cities and municipalities have enacted lighting ordinances in an attempt to decrease the high death toll of sea turtle hatchlings through disorientation. Reducing the amount of artificial light that is visible from nesting beaches is a major step in managing light pollution.
The City of Marco Island is scheduled to revise the current Sea Turtle Lighting Protection Ordinance (No. 135-05) which was adopted on November 5th back in 2001. This revision is based on the latest version of the State Model Lighting Ordinance. This was developed as a guideline to help counties and municipalities in Florida formulate their own ordinances to protect sea turtles from the adverse effects of artificial lighting.
Marco’s Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee (BACR) has been charged with the task of revising this ordinance with the assistance of City staff. The draft ordinance will be discussed at the upcoming BACR meeting to be held on Wednesday, September 16th, from 9 AM – 11 AM. In–person public comments are welcome at the meeting beginning at 9:30 AM. The revised draft has been provided to all beachfront property owners for their review and comments. Comments will be collected and forwarded to the committee members for their review and consideration.
As a result in improvements to materials used to provide artificial lighting, the City Council desires to amend the existing sea turtle artificial lighting regulations to reflect those changes. The revised draft will address the definition of terms, nesting areas, general guidance relating to lighting of outdoor, parking and pool areas, dune walkovers and constructions taking place on or adjacent to the beach during sea turtle season.
The revised draft also deals with exterior lighting affixed to new structures, new constructions, improvements to existing structures, and that all artificial lighting affixed to the exterior of new permanent structures and existing structures be long wavelength, downward directed, full cutoff, shielded and mounted so close to the ground.
The revision also includes guidelines on prohibited activities that disrupt nesting sea turtles, provisions for public education and for monitoring and weekly inspections to ensure compliance with the proposed lighting standards. It includes a section for enforcement and penalties.
According to experts, of all the manmade threats to sea turtles, artificial lighting near nesting habitat might be the most widespread and onerous, affecting both nesting females and emerging hatchlings.
Though thousands of hatchlings emerge from their nest each year in Florida, only 1 in 1,000 to 10,000 will survive to maturity. According to David Godfrey the Executive Director of Florida based Sea Turtle Conservancy, the exact number of hatchlings that are disoriented and die every year in Florida is unknown, but it’s probably well over 100,000.
If you are unable to attend the meeting in person and would like to provide comments, please email Tonia Selmeski at email@example.com.