There are several reasons for marine turtles being an endangered species. Among these are habitat destruction and pollution. The impact of coastal development has eliminated prime nesting site locations by denying turtles access to undisturbed beach. Any turtles that succeed in emerging from nests must then run the gamut of being preyed upon by ghost crabs, sea birds, raccoons, coyotes and various other predators taking a toll on their numbers as they scurry to the surf.

Once they reach the sea, decimated and exhausted, they are subjected to aquatic predation, further reducing their numbers and chances of survival. The once pristine waters of the gulf that in the past offered them a safe sanctuary have become nutrified by farm runoff, resulting in algal blooms producing toxins which poison the hatchlings. Many of those that may manage to survive succumb to the ingestion of plastics that obstruct their digestive systems. Even under the best of conditions barely one in 1,000 marine turtles will survive to sexual maturity and return to a nesting beach.

Beaches that are now lined with luxury vacation homes and tenants present yet another onslaught to emerging hatchlings in the form of light pollution. Marine turtles are biologically wired to orient themselves to light. At night, the shimmering light of the water surface directs the baby turtles to crawl towards the ocean. The house lights shining on the beach overwhelms the turtles and causes them to disorient inland where they have no opportunity to survive.

Fortunately there is an easy solution to this type of pollution. A safe turtle light is available in a wavelength that can be seen by people, but not by turtles. Unfortunately, properties along the beach have neglected to install the safe turtle lights. Every county in Florida with a turtle nesting beach has enacted an ordinance mandating the installation of safe turtle lights. Testudines (turtles) are a remarkable species that managed to evolve and survive the cretaceous mass extinction. It is believed they were able to do so owing to their aquatic niche and unique energy efficient metabolisms.

Despite this, our turtles have no chance at surviving the technological pollution we subject them to! We must not push these turtles beyond their limits and over the ledge of extinction. Information for how to obtain certified safe turtle lights is available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or from the Sea Turtle Conservancy. The Franklin County Safe Turtle Lighting Ordinance contains detailed information on lighting requirements.

Ecotourism is the economic life blood of Franklin County. Make this a turtle safe community and encourage someone you know to Install A Turtle-Safe Light Bulb!

Patrick Bailey

St. George Island