sea turtle protection: lighting edition


Susan Askew
Susan Askew

sea turtle protection: lighting edition:

City taking steps to be more turtle friendly

Since the Turtle Protectors Group spun off from the Clean Up Miami Beach Facebook group, there has been a concerted effort to work with the City, County, and State to protect the nests of endangered sea turtles. This week, the focus was on turtle-friendly lighting that will not confuse hatchlings who use the moonlight as a guide to get to the ocean. Recently, turtles have mistaken bright lights to the west for their beacon and have been found on Ocean Drive.
Commissioner John Alemán did a nighttime beachwalk with environmental activist and founder of Clean Up Miami Beach, Michael DeFilippi, and Turtle Protector volunteer David Suarez. She brought along Acting Environment and Sustainability Director Margarita Wells, two code enforcement officers, two members of the City’s Police Department, and a member of the City’s Communications team.
“We walked from 5th to 15th and we identified that most of the problem lights left were the City’s lights,” Alemán said. The Turtle Protectors group has already had success working with private buildings and code enforcement to adjust most offending lights. Left for the City to address, according to Alemán, are “the acorn lights along the beachwalk [and] some lights along a parking garage. There’s a line west of which you don’t have to worry about your lights anymore” as they don’t confuse the turtles from a certain distance. “As a followup,” she said, “we may talk about moving that line or having another zone that, based on certain [light] heights, you have to move that line.” Some of the taller lights can “look very moonlike,” she noted.
The City tested 13 screens on the acorn lights in an attempt to block the light facing the beach side. Additionally it tested black spray paint on some. Alemán said, “The spray paint was effective and the screens were not. So that was a good observation.”
With regard to the garage lights she said, “We’ve had some public safety issues in our garages and that’s why the lights have been installed.” The City was about to order more but Alemán said, “We put the brakes on that and said let’s look at another solution. Instead of down lighting the garages, maybe [we can use] uplighting from the waist level guard wall for security instead of down lighting.”

In a recent Letter to Commission City Manager Jimmy Morales noted that, in the past, many of these nests were relocated. Due to a policy change from the State’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, most are now left in place. That can conflict with the need for adequate lighting for public safety in commercial and entertainment districts. “Although there is no substitute for a naturally dark sky,” he wrote, “there are practices that the City follows to reduce artificial lighting during nesting season, while maintaining a safe environment for our residents and visitors.” He noted letters sent to private property owners in March before nesting season gets underway reminding them to turn off unnecessary lights and to keep blinds closed.
Morales said there have been a greater number of reports of disoriented hatchlings this year near Marjory Stoneman Douglas Park and Lummus Park. He attributes this to nests remaining in place, increased public awareness, and a new policy to make reports of disoriented hatchlings mandatory.
“Long term,” he said, “the City has several projects in planning, design and construction that will replace existing lighting on public property with lights that are turtle-friendly.” As an example he cited the plans to replace the acorn lights in Lummus Park with fixtures that direct light downward and can accommodate shields to direct light away from the beach. In addition, the new section of the beachwalk under construction in Mid-Beach will include amber LED bollard lights that are turtle-safe. 

Alemán is also organizing a “turtle talk” this month for the public, including the local permit holder from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “the one entity allowed to touch the turtles,” she said. “We’re going to have a presentation so that all of the stakeholders can understand the organizational structure… State, County City, nonprofits, who are all the players, what are their responsibilities and what are the limitations.” The many layers have been a source of confusion. At the “turtle talk” meeting, Alemán said, “We’re going to talk about the process of what’s supposed to happen and we’re going to talk about the environment, the lighting, beach furniture, ATVs, and we’re going to talk about what’s happening now and let there be some discussion on what’s working and what’s not working.”
So far, the City and the Turtle Protector group have been successful at getting beach concessionaires to be aware of the nests and to commit to moving their furniture back further at the end of the day and now the lighting initiative is in progress. Overall, Alemán said, “We may not be able to get all the remedies in for this hatching season but we can sure get it in for next hatching season.”
One of the important goals for the “turtle talk” she said is to increase the understanding of what we can all do to protect turtles. “Individuals and nonprofits can sign up and get authorized to interact with disoriented hatchlings,” Alemán noted. “There is a process for that so we’re going to get all the details so people can get trained and get authorization.” It’s illegal to touch endangered turtles. Volunteers have been calling for emergency authorization to help disoriented hatchlings but just standing by is hard.  “We don’t want our residents to be in a lose-lose situation because it breaks your heart to see them heading towards Ocean Drive… You don’t want to get a record because you have your humanity intact,” she said.
If you’re interested, stay tuned here for details once the “turtle talk” is scheduled.

In the meantime, if you see a disoriented hatchling, call the FWCC at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC on cellular phones.

Photo: Commissioner John Alemán

protecting sea turtles, one person at a time


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
what you can do

joining together to protect sea turtles


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
education, cooperation, compliance, and a lot of passion