CommunityFDL Main Blog

Nighttime Beach Cleanup Will Be Deadly for Sea Turtle Hatchlings

Sea turtle hatchlings moving toward light. (photo: qnr-away for a while on Flickr)

There are multiple reports that beach cleanup efforts in the Florida panhandle are moving to nights because of the excessive heat and humidity in North Florida. Today’s Weather.com forecast for Pensacola predicts a heat index of 100 degrees or more from 11 am through 5 pm, and similar conditions in the area have persisted for at least a week. The Pensacola News Journal states that heat indices of 114 have regularly been observed on the beach there. It should not be surprising then, that with the health of cleanup workers in mind, the efforts are being moved to nighttime, when conditions are much more tolerable. Sadly, however, lighting Florida beaches at night is a huge mistake, because hatchling sea turtles orient towards the brightest part of the horizon. Sadder still, we are now at the time of year when these turtles are hatching and trying to return to the sea from the onshore nests where the eggs hatch.

McClatchy described the turn to nighttime cleanup and noted that tar balls are easier to remove when they are cooler:

BP crews were instructed to turn to cleanup efforts at night, according to an update from Tallahassee, and in Escambia County, close to the Mississippi border, night-time sweeps were scheduled for Thursday on Pensacola Beach and Peridido.

The sweltering summer sun melts tar balls, making them harder to collect. And daytime labor is taking its toll on specially trained workers in plastic jumpsuits and gloves.

The Pensacola News Journal also described the move to nighttime cleanup, but did note that this could pose a problem for turtles:

Lucia Bustamante, representing BP in the Escambia County emergency operations center, said banks of lights are being used for the night operations.

“Some are light trailers, some are flood lights,” Bustamante said. “We’re having to be very careful with the turtles.”

Nesting sea turtles are attracted to bright lights that can disrupt egg-laying.

The Fish and Wildlife Institute of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has an informative resource page on the problem of artificial lighting around sea turtle habitat:

Disorientation from artificial lighting causes thousands of hatchling deaths each year in Florida and is a significant marine turtle conservation problem. Long-term monitoring of this threat involves an annual statewide effort to gather information from disorientation reports, to use this information in facilitating light management on nesting beaches and to research into additional remedies for the threats caused by lighting.

Of critical importance now is the first of the Frequently Asked Questions on the page. . .

When do hatchling sea turtles emerge from their nests?

The first hatchlings of the season emerge from nests approximately eight weeks after the first nesting of the season, and this activity continues for up to eight weeks after the final nesting of the season. Outside the tropics, hatchlings generally emerge throughout the summer and early fall. In the southeastern USA, hatchlings emerge throughout the months of June, July, August, September, and October. It is a myth that hatchlings emerge only around the time of the full moon. Hatchlings ready to emerge wait just beneath the sand surface until conditions become cool. This temperature cue prompts them to emerge primarily at night, although some late-afternoon and early-morning emergences have been documented.

The page then goes on to document that the hatchlings orient to the brightest part of the sky (note the shadow direction in the photo above–the hatchlings are headed toward the light), which is why bathing beaches in light at this time of year is a particularly bad idea.

CommunityMy FDLSeminal

Nighttime Beach Cleanup Will Be Deadly for Sea Turtle Hatchlings

Hatchlings
Sea turtle hatchlings moving toward light. (photo: qnr-away for a while on Flickr)

There are multiple reports that beach cleanup efforts in the Florida panhandle are moving to nights because of the excessive heat and humidity in North Florida. Today’s Weather.com forecast for Pensacola predicts a heat index of 100 degrees or more from 11 am through 5 pm, and similar conditions in the area have persisted for at least a week. The Pensacola News Journal states that heat indices of 114 have regularly been observed on the beach there. It should not be surprising then, that with the health of cleanup workers in mind, the efforts are being moved to nighttime, when conditions are much more tolerable. Sadly, however, lighting Florida beaches at night is a huge mistake, because hatchling sea turtles orient towards the brightest part of the horizon. Sadder still, we are now at the time of year when these turtles are hatching and trying to return to the sea from the onshore nests where the eggs hatch.

McClatchy described the turn to nighttime cleanup and noted that tar balls are easier to remove when they are cooler:

BP crews were instructed to turn to cleanup efforts at night, according to an update from Tallahassee, and in Escambia County, close to the Mississippi border, night-time sweeps were scheduled for Thursday on Pensacola Beach and Peridido.

The sweltering summer sun melts tar balls, making them harder to collect. And daytime labor is taking its toll on specially trained workers in plastic jumpsuits and gloves.

The Pensacola News Journal also described the move to nighttime cleanup, but did note that this could pose a problem for turtles:
4601729509_8338093e60_o.jpg

Lucia Bustamante, representing BP in the Escambia County emergency operations center, said banks of lights are being used for the night operations.

"Some are light trailers, some are flood lights," Bustamante said. "We’re having to be very careful with the turtles."

Nesting sea turtles are attracted to bright lights that can disrupt egg-laying.

The Fish and Wildlife Institute of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has an informative resource page on the problem of artificial lighting around sea turtle habitat:

Disorientation from artificial lighting causes thousands of hatchling deaths each year in Florida and is a significant marine turtle conservation problem. Long-term monitoring of this threat involves an annual statewide effort to gather information from disorientation reports, to use this information in facilitating light management on nesting beaches and to research into additional remedies for the threats caused by lighting.

Of critical importance now is the first of the Frequently Asked Questions on the page:

When do hatchling sea turtles emerge from their nests?
The first hatchlings of the season emerge from nests approximately eight weeks after the first nesting of the season, and this activity continues for up to eight weeks after the final nesting of the season. Outside the tropics, hatchlings generally emerge throughout the summer and early fall. In the southeastern USA, hatchlings emerge throughout the months of June, July, August, September, and October. It is a myth that hatchlings emerge only around the time of the full moon. Hatchlings ready to emerge wait just beneath the sand surface until conditions become cool. This temperature cue prompts them to emerge primarily at night, although some late-afternoon and early-morning emergences have been documented.

The page then goes on to document that the hatchlings orient to the brightest part of the sky (note the shadow direction in the photo above–the hatchlings are headed toward the light), which is why bathing beaches in light at this time of year is a particularly bad idea.

Previous post

Jobs Bill Fails Cloture Test Again; Future Uncertain

Next post

Senate Climate Caucus Meeting: They Agreed to Another Meeting

Jim White

Jim White

Follow me on Twitter @JimWhiteGNV