Marine Turtles & Oceanfront Lighting
The loggerhead sea turtle is Key Biscayne’s most common nester. The nesting season for the loggerhead officially starts on May 1; however, they have commenced nesting on our beaches in mid or late April in recent years. The nesting season can continue through to September. Monitoring of sea turtle nesting and hatching extends through October 31 as hatchlings can still emerge from their nests until this time.
May 1- October 31 is a crucial time of year for populations of threatened and endangered marine sea turtles in Miami-Dade County. The rise in coastal development has dramatically changed the beach environment for sea turtles. In order to find suitable nest sites, nesting female sea turtles now must compete with tourists, coastal residents, condominiums, private residences, businesses and hotels. The conservation efforts of Key Biscayne's residents and guests are vital to the enduring survival of sea turtles in South Florida.
Loggerheads and other sea turtle species face dangers throughout their life cycle and are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. They are also listed as a protected species under the state Marine Turtle Protection Act (Florida Statutes 379.2431) and Village Ordinance 2009-6 (PDF), Chapter 8, Environment, Article Vi: Lighting Regulations for Marine Turtles of the Village Code. By law, exterior oceanfront lighting shall not illuminate any part of the beach during sea turtle nesting and hatching season from May 1 through October 31.
Female loggerheads usually emerge from the ocean onto Key Biscayne’s beaches from May through August to lay their eggs. An average of 135 loggerhead nests are observed along the Key’s beaches each year. The eggs incubate in the sand for about 45 to 55 days, and baby turtles generally hatch between June and the end of October. Learn more about the life cycle of sea turtles here.
Artificial Light Control Along the Beach
Artificial lights confuse nesting females and baby sea turtles and interfere with their natural instincts. Lighting can deter a nesting female sea turtle from coming ashore. Another risk is that after several unsuccessful attempts to come ashore she may resort to laying her eggs in an unsuitable location. Artificial lights can also disorient females and make it difficult for them to find the ocean and return to it. Studies have shown that beaches lit with bright artificial lighting are used less frequently as nesting sites.
It is instinctive for hatchlings to crawl towards the brighter horizon of the night sky as the moon reflects off the ocean. In many coastal areas, however, the sky over the dunes is lit up by thousands of artificial lights, confusing hatchlings so that they crawl in the wrong direction far from the ocean. They are more susceptible to dehydration, predators and the street. A single light left on or near a nest can disorient and kill hundreds of hatchlings. With only one in one thousand sea turtle hatchlings surviving to adulthood, conservation is vital to their survival.
Staff, residents and visitors of residential and hotel properties along the Village of Key Biscayne’s Atlantic beachfront are asked to accept the responsibility of helping to protect these imperiled marine creatures. Help adult and hatchling sea turtles in your back yard by shading and turning off lights visible to the beach each night by 9:00 PM from May 1 to October 31.
Sea turtles and people can coexist if actions to preserve and share the common habitat – Key Biscayne’s beautiful beach – are implemented. The Village of Key Biscayne supports the Miami-Dade County Sea Turtle Monitoring Program and enacted Village Ordinance 2009-6 (PDF) to help protect sea turtles by controlling the amount of artificial light projected on the beach during turtle nesting season. Commercial and residential properties along the Village beachfront are monitored to ensure compliance with the ordinance.
The requirements of Village Ordinance 2009-6 and solutions for how to retrofit outdoor lights to minimize oceanfront lighting hazards to marine turtles are given in the Village Marine Turtle - Lighting Brochure (PDF). This brochure was distributed to all oceanfront properties within the Village in advance of the 2012 marine turtle nesting season.
We ask that you either turn out the lights or close the curtains in your rooms and on your balconies by 9:00 pm each night. Thank you for your cooperation!
Please assist Village efforts as follows:
- CLOSE ALL CURTAINS OR BLINDS AND TURN OFF ANY BALCONY LIGHTING BY 9:00 PM EACH NIGHT
- TURN OUT THE LIGHTS IN YOUR ROOM WHEN NOT IN USE
- NO FLASHLIGHTS, FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY OR CELL PHONE LIGHTS SHOULD BE ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT AND NEVER SHOULD BE POINTED AT A SEA TURTLE OR TO ILLUMINATE A NEST
- DO NOT DISTURB SEA TURTLES, NESTS OR TURTLE EGGS ON OUR BEACH
What to Do if You See a Sea Turtle on the Beach
Refrain from walking on the beach at night during the summer months (May through October) as much as possible. No matter how quiet you are, humans often, and unknowingly, frighten nesting sea turtles back into the sea. If you see an adult or hatchling sea turtle on the beach at night from May through October, please follow these rules and regulations:
- Stay away from crawling or nesting sea turtles. Their presence is a normal phenomenon. Although the urge to observe them up close is great, please do not do so as you could disrupt the turtle’s life cycle.
- If you see the tell-tale signs of nesting activity and identify where the nest is, do not dig into the nest or disturb the overlying sand.
- Do not handle sea turtle hatchlings.
- Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 1-888-404-FWCC or *FWC (Mobile Phone) ONLY under the following circumstances:
- You observe an adult turtle is in a dangerous nesting situation or has wandered off the beach. (on a road, in parking lot, etc.)
- You see hatchlings wandering away from the ocean or from the beach
- You observe a stranded, injured or dead sea turtle.
- You see someone harassing a sea turtle or poaching a nest (Call the local police as well. Key Biscayne Police non-emergency number is (305) 365-5555).
Sea Turtle Monitoring in Miami-Dade County and Key Biscayne
Documented sea turtle activity did not exist in Miami-Dade County prior to 1980. The main reason was the lack of adequate beach-nesting habitat. In 1979, the County Park and Recreation Department's Sea Turtle Conservation Program began a comprehensive beach renourishment project, and sea turtle nesting activity was monitored and recoreded starting in 1980 along the newly renourished beaches. Since 1980 the program has documented more than 6,886 nests and the release of more than 550,300 hatchlings. More information about County outreach programs is available at www.miamidade.gov/ecoadventures/seaturtle_conservation.asp.
Turtle nesting activity along the Atlantic beaches of Key Biscayne is monitored by two groups during the season from May-October. Miami-Dade County naturalists and volunteers patrol Crandon Park to the north and within the Village limits. Park rangers monitor activity within Bill Bags Cape Florida State Park to the south. Daily early morning patrols are conducted to identify, map and mark nest locations. Nests are left in place. The area surrounding the nest is staked and taped off to alert beachgoers. A protective grate may be placed over the nest to protect the eggs from predators. Residents and visitors are advised to stay clear of marked nests along the beach.
If you need additional information or have any questions and/or comments, please contact Teal Kawana, Oceanfront Lighting and Marine Turtle Code Enforcement Officer, Village of Key Biscayne, at 305-365-8917 (office), 786-877-1648 (mobile) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
References Material Used for this Webpage
“Turtle Time”, written in April 2011 by Nancy J. Richie of the City of Marco Island, Florida. Used with permission.
Miami-Dade County website turtile information - www.miamidade.gov