New LBK turtle ordinance sheds light on enforcement challenges

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Longboat Key has a tendency to get lit up at night.

The literal shedding of lights from properties onto Longboat Key beaches is so prevalent that the state pressured the town to fix the problem with stricter turtle lighting regulations. The town after months of debate, adopted stricter language, but left a six month window for compliance.

According to Town Code Enforcement Officer Chris Elbon, the new rules went into effect on July 5, but there is no enforcement of the lighting from existing structures due to the six-month grace period. That means that other than through education, the town cannot cite or require any compliance from any existing condominium or residence for any lighting issue no matter how disorienting to turtles until next year.

When asked just how much light is on the beach, Elbon said, “The north end is pretty dark until you hit Twin Shores and the south end. Sarasota County, has a lot of light hitting the beach.”

Elbon will spend the next months, he said, educating property owners of the new regulations in preparation for next year’s turtle season beginning May 1, 2017, when he will be able to cite violators.

Elbon added that his strategy is to create sectors out of the beach and he can enforce sector by sector, first seeking voluntary compliance and secondary enforcement next year.

Part of the issue is the town still needs to develop a fee structure, or essentially a consequence structure, to deal with any enforcement issues and violators.

The other part of the newly adopted ordinance does not have a grace period, according to Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale and that is the new provisions that require all private property to be removed from the beach before dark. The new rules require the town to tag any furniture or belongings left behind to tag them, alerting the owner that the property will be removed after a certain number of hours.

Elbon said he is close to having an approved property violation tag printed and Mooney-Portale said that removed property will be taken to the Longboat Key Police Station where it will be placed into evidence.

The town found itself strongly encouraged by the state to strengthen its turtle ordinance after numerous reports showed Longboat Key had a disproportionate number of disorientations as compared to neighboring communities. Disorientations are when the sea turtle hatchlings do not go toward the water due to lighting or obstacles on the beach.

As of Aug. 4, thirty-six percent of sea turtle nests have been disoriented on all of Longboat Key, with more than half of that number being on the relocated nests from the beach renourishment.

On July 5 the town commission passed the newer and less permissive sea turtle ordinance. In a 6-1 vote, commissioners adopted the ordinance that requires interior lighting as well as exterior lighting to not be seen from the beach, as well as the removal of all beach furniture and obstacles.

Added to the ordinance at the meeting was that violations of the ordinance would be notified in writing as well as the remedies to solve the violation. Under the new ordinance property owners would also have the right to seek a variance from the town commission if they can show that a hardship exists on the property that precludes them from coming into compliance in the time allotted under the code.


Beach renourishment permitting the reason for stricter ordinance

The reason for the new, more stringent ordinance is the fact that the town has the highest number of sea turtle strandings in the area, and lack of an effort to change the ordinance would result in the inability to receive permits for any future beach renourishment projects. According to Mote Marine’s data count, Longboat Key has the highest number of sea turtle disorientations in Sarasota County.

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 taking place now and will continue into the summer months during turtle nesting season which begins May 1 and continues through Oct 31.

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.” Bullock said there should be “immediate improvement” of the current high rate of sea turtle disorientations.


Volunteers working overtime

Turtle nesting season during a beach renourishment project has kept Mote volunteers and Longboat Key Turtle Watch volunteers working overtime to remove nests that are in the danger zone where sand is being placed, and move them to one of two safety zones where there will be no sand added to the beach this season.

According to Longboat Key Turtle Watch Vice President Cyndi Seamon, raccoons at the south end of Longboat Key have also been a problem for sea turtle eggs, and according to Mote Marine, 190 nests have been depredated on Longboat Key.

Residents who want to know more about the new turtle lighting ordinance or if they wish to have their property evaluated to see if there is a possible violation they can call Town Hall at 316-1999.

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