Excessive, artificial lighting along the shoreline can cause sea turtle hatchlings to crawl away from — instead of towards — the ocean, often leading to death. In addition, if a nesting beach is too brightly lit, a nesting female may be deterred from coming ashore to lay her eggs. State and federal regulators, in addition to local stakeholders, need a standardized method for determining beach lighting “hotspots” to help manage and correct problem areas.
Sea to Shore Alliance has created a breakthrough method of measuring, mapping, and recording beach lighting levels along Florida’s coastlines. Through a 2009 grant from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, S2S developed a unique system that allows light data to be collected through aerial surveys flown at night using geo-referenced technology, combined with a specialized spot light metering system. A 2011 grant from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund allowed us to then aerially map coastal lighting from Merritt Island, FL to Key Largo, FL and provide that collected data to various state wildlife managers to better protect nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings.
The results of this project will help provide an assessment and integrated atlas of sea turtle nesting beach illumination from a seaward perspective. The data will allow managers to quickly and accurately identify illumination “hotspots” or coastal problem areas in near real-time, simply by clicking on a map and video of a section of Florida’s coastline. The data will give a baseline for future broad scale assessments to monitor lighting compliance, effectiveness of new lighting technologies, and voluntary participation in beachside illumination reduction. These results will also provide a useful tool for federal, state, and local managers concerned about beach lighting as it may affect sea turtle nesting and emergence. This technology has the potential for applications worldwide!