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Will Longboat step-up turtle light enforcement?

RACHEL HORNE
Staff Columnist
Horne@lbknews.com

In 2016 the town of Longboat Key finally adopted a series of measures to protect endangered sea turtles during the nesting season. The new rules – which included dimming artificial lights and  nightly removal of beach furniture – were put in place to ensure female turtles could build their nests without distractions and their hatchlings could make it to the water safely without being disoriented by lights – other than the moon.

The good news: during last year’s May through October nesting season, a record number of nests were recorded along the beaches of Longboat Key.

The bad news: at the same time, there was a “notable increase” in turtle disorientations, according to Mote Marine Laboratory.

And now for the surprising news: despite deeming there were 81 beach obstructions and 50 lighting violation cases during last year’s nesting season, the town of LBK did not issue one single, solitary fine to anyone. All they received was a warning, a mere slap on the wrist.

And the same thing might happen again this year. At a town workshop on April 23, the seven commissioners will be weighing up if violators should be issued with an on-the-spot fine if they have been breaking the rules.

I, for one, hope the commissioners agree to this – as I believe this would lead to greater compliance. I, however, am not optimistic. Preserving these magnificent and endangered creatures who have been on the earth for more than a hundred million years has not exactly been a priority of the Town for a long time.

Since 2010, Longboat Key has held the dubious record of the highest number of endangered turtle disorientation cases each year in Sarasota County. Despite this, the commissioners year after year refused to pass tougher rules to safeguard the turtles – even after extensive lobbying by the Longboat Key Turtle Watch and the island’s residents.

In fact the Town didn’t even budge when neighbouring areas such as Lido, Casey and Siesta Key and Venice imposed stricter regulations.

It was only when the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation – troubled by the island’s record number of disorientations – said they might restrict future beach renourishment projects did the commissioners finally pass tougher sea turtle protection ordinances.

And now having passed them, it looks like the Town is not making a huge effort to enforce them. Last nesting season, residents said beach chairs, tent frames, coolers and blankets were regularly left on the beach overnight – and nothing was done. As for outdoor and indoor lights, they were sometimes kept blazing during the evening and early mornings.

Not surprisingly, this translated into trouble for the turtles. According to Mote, there were a record 207 hatchling and 16 adult cases of turtle disorientations last year. As for all those beach obstructions? Mote says female turtles encountered dozens of man-made obstacles last year ranging from tables to a kayak rack. One loggerhead female ended up dragging a chair into the ocean – after she became entangled in it. No one is sure if she survived.

The Town says they are putting efforts into educating people about the new ordinances – holding workshops, visiting beach properties, handing out brochures and even teaming up with the Ringling Design Museum to produce posters about how to safeguard turtles.

I agree education is crucial. But I also believe it should go hand-in-hand with strong enforcement. Only then will there be strong compliance.

So next time, someone leaves out a beach chair overnight – why doesn’t the Town levy a fine?

Harsh? Perhaps. But a turtle caught in a chair is harsh too.

These endangered creatures need a dark, obstacle free beach to lay their nests. We have the rules to ensure this – it’s time for the Town to enforce them.

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Longboat Key News

2 Responses for “Will Longboat step-up turtle light enforcement?”

  1. Leon I. Hammer M.D. says:

    Here-Here!!

    There is nothing more to add.

    We have the means to responsible mentors of of the Earth- not the will. We will lose our dominant place in the evolution if we do not find the will, soon.

    Leon Hammer

    Leon Hammer
    We will lose our place in the history of the ewath if we do not find the will very soon.

  2. Dorothy Carlson says:

    I strongly agree. Strict enforcement is essential.

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