New Lighting Gives Sea Turtle Hatchlings a New Lease on Life

In Florida, the bright lights of urbanization often overpower the moonlight that normally guides newly hatched turtles to sea. And the results can be tragic.

Lured by artificial lights, tiny hatchlings along the coastline head for hotels, condos or highways instead of the ocean. Confused and disoriented, they are crushed by cars or wander in circles. In many cases, they die from dehydration or predators.

Scientists estimate as many as 30 percent of all Florida hatchlings have died as a result of light disorientation in recent years.

In 2010, NFWF launched a $1 million project to retrofit lights along more than seven miles of prime sea turtle nesting habitat on Florida beaches. The disorienting bright lights are being replaced.  New amber lights are dimmer and direct the light down, instead of out toward the nesting sites.

Working with its partners, the Sea Turtle Conservancy and Florida Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NFWF has financed 50 lighting retrofits. They were funded through the BP Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife, created after the 2010 Deep Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The results have been impressive. In the first year the new lights were in place, the number of hatchlings killed from disorientation declined 20 percent over previous years. An estimated 10,000 more hatchlings made it safely to the water.

During the 2012 hatching season, early results were even more dramatic: Virtually no hatchling disorientation has been observed on some beaches where turtle-friendly lights have been installed.

“We’re seeing extraordinary success with turtle-friendly lights,” said Michelle Pico, NFWF’s program director for marine conservation. “Not only are more hatchlings making it safely to the water, but more turtles are nesting on the beaches. This will have a major long-term impact on vulnerable sea turtle populations in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.”

Business establishments along the beaches noted an added bonus: The new lights saved them up to 70 percent on their utility bills for exterior lighting.