Letters: Sea turtles can’t adapt to light pollution
When attractions become irresistible, they may produce undesirable results. Attractive women innocently walking along the street may attract prolonged glances from males. A momentary glance while driving may result in an accident. I'll elaborate more on attractions and unwanted outcomes later in this article.
St. George Island is an attraction that drew many of us to make our home here. We were captivated by its balmy breezes, pristine sandy beaches, and lush subtropical foliage. Most who visit the island will immerse themselves in reflective moments mesmerized by the crescendo of waves rolling ashore. Our glances then drawn skyward by a peloton of pelicans silently gliding overhead. Beyond these more obvious attractions of St. George Island there exists an esoteric presence few of us ever take a moment to discover. A mystic presence that was here for eons prior to people setting foot upon this isle.
Take a moment to learn of our treasured sea turtles that too many of us know too little about. Sea turtles are the undiscovered marvel of the Forgotten Coast sharing this island with us. Before we even existed as a species, there were sea turtles. The sea turtles of today are descended from those that survived from the past two mass extinctions dating back more than 100,000 million years ago. What an amazing triumph of evolutionary adaptation. In perspective, we have existed a mere 3 million to 4 million years.
What is it that sea turtles do for us today besides fascinate with their graceful swimming and smiling visage? To begin with, we could perhaps learn from their physiology how to adapt to climate change, which was associated with past mass extinctions. Sea turtles are a keystone species, meaning that if we erase their existence, we will set into motion the loss of other species whose very existence relies upon their presence. Case in point: Future visits to the beach may be met with purple flags signaling a warning to swimmers to beware of stinging jellyfish (Sea turtles' diet consists partly of jellyfish).
At the beginning of this article I mentioned attractions and their consequences. Our sea turtles evolved over geological time to be attracted to the light reflected by the ocean. Those eons of hardwired biological response to light cannot adapt to the light pollution we cast upon the nests of sea turtles. Emerging baby sea turtles get overwhelmed by the super stimulus of our artificial light which causes them to move inland instead of toward the subtle light reflected from the ocean. That wayward misdirection is a death warrant to baby sea turtles which become entangled in the underbrush, swarmed by stinging ants, devoured by crabs and picked off as easy prey by various other predators or get crushed in traffic. One hundred million years of successful evolution destroyed by a light bulb!
There is a solution to pernicious light pollution. There exists a lighting technology (www.seaturtlelighting.net), which produces illumination we can easily see, yet is invisible to sea turtles. Certified safe sea turtle lights approved by the sea turtle conservancy and the FWC need to be installed in every exterior lighting fixture visible from the beach. Only red LED safe turtle flashlights available from ANERR or online are allowed on our beaches.
Franklin County infrastructure relies on tourism dollars to sustain the local economy. Sea turtle ecotourism is an essential attraction drawing tourists to the Forgotten Coast. Please do your part to help make the Forgotten Coast a Sea Turtle Safe Community. All of Florida nesting beaches have enacted sea turtle lighting ordinances. If you see a property with exterior white unsafe lights visible from the beach, let the owner know the harm it causes to one of St. George Islands' most precious resources. Violations of The Franklin County Turtle Lighting Ordinance may also be reported to the sheriff’s office.