Each year, thousands of sea turtle hatchlings become disoriented and up to 80 percent die because of light pollution, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC). In response, the organization is working with manufacturers and homeowners to encourage production and implementation of outdoor lighting fixtures that don't interfere with the turtles' nesting behavior.
Born at night, newly hatched turtles instinctively head toward the place with the most light, which historically had been the sea because its reflective surface bounced back more moonlight than the sandy beach. Today, hatchlings often mistakenly head toward relatively brightly lit condominiums, restaurants, and streets, where they are at risk of being eaten by predators, run over by cars, or baked to death in the hot Florida sun the next day. Other species, such as song birds that migrate at night, are also affected by artificial lighting.
The FFWCC, along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), has begun certifying light fixtures as wildlife friendly. In order to qualify, a luminaire must be mounted as low as is practical for an intended illumination task, have full cut-off or at least be completely shielded from the beach, and be lamped with a bulb that produces long-wavelength light. (Turtles have trouble seeing monochromatic yellow, amber, and red light, but are most attracted to bright white polychromatic lights, such as white fluorescent, metal halide, halogen, and mercury vapor.) Participating manufacturers, whose fixtures are eligible to be stamped with the wildlife lighting logo (shown right), include Starry Night Lights, Thomas Lighting, WF Harris Lighting, and Electro Elf Lighting Products. Turtle Safe Lighting makes lamps and filters used in many of the fixtures.
According to Dean Gallagher of the FFWCC, using environmentally friendly outdoor lighting can make a difference. He points to Volusia county, on central Florida's east coast, where tougher ordinances regarding acceptable lighting levels in both new and existing buildings and infrastructure have brought about quantifiable changes. In 1985, 54 nests could be found along a particular 22-mile stretch of beach; three years ago, that same section was home to almost 400.
In addition, a marine lighting course is held by the FWCC and the USFWS six times a year that reaches out to homeowners, lighting designers, and anyone else wanting to learn about the impact of dark-sky issues on ocean wildlife. Gallagher points out that people often see the creatures in a new way after taking the class and adopting its suggestions.
'People get very protective of the nests near their homes, especially if they haven't had nests in the past,' he said. 'I've seen whole condominiums set up 'nest sitting' parties where they stay up all night sitting in beach chairs to make sure the hatchlings pull through ok.'