Tougher turtle law on cusp of approval

Associate Publisher

Human skill to care for animals may benefit sea turtles next week, as the commission holds the second reading of a more stringent sea turtle ordinance at a special meeting Tuesday.

On Tuesday at 1 p.m., town commissioners will vote on the town’s new sea turtle ordinance which regulates making sure all interior and exterior lighting is shielded from reaching the beach, and that all furniture or structures on the beach are dismantled and taken back toward the sand dunes.

The catalyst originally behind the more stringent ordinance is the fact that the town has the largest number of sea turtle disorientations and strandings in the area. According to Mote Marine’s data, Longboat Key has the highest number of sea turtle disorientations in Sarasota County.

Town Manager Dave Bullock said, “Because we brought this ordinance forward in permitting the beach, the regulatory agencies said our ordinance is inconsistent with other municipalities and has a higher number of disorientations.”

With the town’s previous ordinance, sea turtle lighting was the primary focus, however in the new ordinance not only are low lighting measures going to be more stringent, but any objects such as beach chairs will have to be removed at night so the turtles do not become ensnared in them or disoriented.

Bullock said, “It is now legal to leave beach chairs and other belongings on the beach; this (revised ordinance) would change that. You would have to walk it (beach chairs) back and take it away. That too, is pretty common in other municipalities. If you look at other communities’ experiences, overwhelmingly people learned that they could come into compliance and the turtles would be better off by simply turning out the lights or closing the blinds.”

If the town commission were to make no effort to change the ordinance, it could result in the inability to receive permits for any future beach renourishment projects.

Bullock said that both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) expressed concern during permitting of the three current beach renourishment projects that are currently taking place and will continue through the end of summer during turtle nesting season, which begins May 1 and continues through Oct 31. Part of the beach renourishment project requirement is to remove sea turtle nests that are in the beach construction zone and relocate them to another part of the island.

According to FWC Biological Administrator Robbin Trindell, the state was concerned that the nests that needed to be moved, may be relocated to areas where the lighting was not conducive to nesting conditions. For that reason, Bullock committed to bringing the commission a revised ordinance that would take measures to reduce the number of sea turtle disorientations.

Trindell said that if the town does not follow through on the new ordinance and the high level of disorientations continue, “There could be significant ramifications.”

“It can affect the ability for the community to have a nourished beach. When you elevate the beach in a renourishment project, you create additional impact on the nesting environment. That is something state and federal agencies have to consider: are you going to cause harm?” said Trindell.

The cumulative sea turtle nesting totals as of June 25 are: Manatee portion of Longboat Key has 292 nests, and Sarasota portion of Longboat Key has 280 nests. The town commission will have first reading of the new turtle ordinance at the Tuesday, July 5 special meeting at 1 p.m. in Town Hall.



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