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Florida Lighthouse Tragically Leads Sea Turtles to Their Death

Sea turtles use light as a navigation tool, instinctively moving toward light at night. Sand dunes typically obscure the night’s natural light from their view, and this instinct to follow the light allows them to then find the sea. But when artificial lights shine above the sand dunes, sea turtles can become disoriented and wander inland to their death.

The Hillsboro Inlet Entrance Lighthouse in Pompano, Florida casts an extremely bright, 1,000-watt light onto the beach that attracts sea turtle hatchlings and lures them to their doom. The U.S. Coast Guard is currently evaluating the lighthouse and its effect on endangered sea turtles. It is unclear whether the lighthouse still serves a valid navigational role; its continued operation would likely only be cosmetic and historical. Unfortunately this issue has been inaccurately spun as a choice between sea turtles and a beloved, historic lighthouse. But in fact the lighthouse need not be at risk as long as simple steps are taken to give Florida’s turtles a fighting chance.

If the Coast Guard determines it is necessary to continue to illuminate the lighthouse, there are several easy steps it can and should take to help reduce the danger to sea turtles from the lighthouse.

1. Change the color from 1,000-watt tungsten halogen (bright white) to high or preferably low pressure sodium (yellowish tinge) for a more animal-friendly color.

2. Reduce the lumen output by using several 250-watt lamps or fewer.

3. Mask the portion of the lens room visible from the sand by rotating the metal shield blocking condominium bedrooms that is already in place.

4. Install a frosted, Plexiglas panel or filter curtain to dim the beam, only over the nesting beaches and only during turtle season.

5. Shield the bottom half pane of glass in the light enclosure such that stray light visible to the beach is eliminated.

6. Shield the bottom of the clamshell double lens so the lamp is not visible to the ground directly below and about 100-feet from the supporting structure.

7. Change the speed or direction of rotation so it is more suitable to sea turtle nesting.

8. Paint the ceiling and all structural elements in the lens room nonreflecting black.

9. Tinted glass or film with a visible light transmittance value of 45 percent or less could be applied to all glass windows and doors within line of sight of dry land.

For years, authorized volunteers who patrol the area have rescued disoriented hatchlings and moved them to darker beaches. Artificial light can also cause nesting mothers to head toward land instead of the sea where they and their young die of exhaustion, predation, entanglement, dehydration or even automotive strikes on coastal roads.

Please sign the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to ask the U.S. Coast Guard to enact these simple measures necessary to save Florida’s endangered sea turtles, and for an even greater impact add your own two cents to the suggestions.

You can also visit their website to learn more here about the Center’s ongoing efforts to protect loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.

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Photo of leatherback sea turtle courtesy Flickr Commons/jimmyweee.

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130 comments

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10:57AM PDT on Apr 13, 2012

I'm all for helping sea turtles, but I fail to see the science that ties lighthouse lights to endangering sea turtles. I retired as an officer in the Coast Guard after a 23 year career, which included planning lighted aids to navigation. Lighthouse optics focus light into a narrow beam where ships most need it, i.e. on the horizon. There is very little light from a lighthouse lens that shows on the nearby beach, because it is aimed at a point 20 miles away. Plus, this lighthouse has been in operation for more than 100 years and Florida beaches were very productive places for turtle hatching throughout the time period when lighthouses were the only lights along the coast. I feel that the effort to turn off this lighthouse is extremely misdirected and could in fact be dangerous as one oilspill caused by shipwreck would be far worse ... wouldn't it be better to restrict coastal street lights and porch lights? Is lighting really the problem or is it coastal development in general or racoon populations?

8:41AM PDT on Apr 13, 2012

signed, thanks for sharing :)

10:24AM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

This is SO SAD. RIP dear ones....................

Please, do whatever it takes to stop the deaths of these sea turtles. This is preventable so LET'S PREVENT MORE DEATHS.

5:41PM PDT on Apr 7, 2012

So sad

6:50AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

The lighthouse has been there for over 150 years. It has and always will be a navigation tool. It is not the problem, the problem is all the million dollar beach front homes.

5:16AM PDT on Mar 28, 2012

I would hate to see any species of sea turtles go extinct. They are one of the most beautiful, ancient creatures that still live on this planet. It's time that we wake up to realize that the planet needs our help

2:52PM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

poor turtles, atleast the problem shouldn't be too hard to fix.

2:10AM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

very sad :(

12:52AM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

Everything should be done that can be done,while lighthouses are Important,So are turtles more important Id say, I love turtles they are Beautiful Creatures!

9:14PM PDT on Mar 26, 2012

It seems as if there are plenty of easy solutions for this one.

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Judy Molland An award-winning writer and teacher, Judy Molland is also an avid hiker, backpacker, and nature... more
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