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Last week, National Seashore park rangers were heartbroken after a loggerhead sea turtle nest they did not know existed hatched and most of the babies disappeared after crawling in the wrong direction.
Light pollution was blamed for the loss of the endangered species.
The nest was laid within 8-feet of the Gulf. Sea turtles, which have been around since the time of dinosaurs, naturally use the glow that stars, planets and the moon create when they reflect on the Gulf.
But these days, the artificial lights of coastal development far outshine celestial lights.
Park rangers and volunteers spend tireless hours hunting down, marking and monitoring every sea turtle nest they can find. They know if they are not there when the turtles hatch they'll most likely head north, east or west toward the brightest glow of beach homes, businesses or condominiums instead of into the relative safety of the Gulf of Mexico.
...The homeowners association of the [condominium towers of Portofino Resort] have taken steps to install turtle-friendly lights in their parking garages. Still, sitting on the beach looking at both the horizons — over the Gulf and to the north — it was clear why the turtles made a beeline toward the resort [as well as to the] north.
The biggest problem was... the interior lights shining brightly from condominiums [where] owners or renters do not close their drapes or blinds at night.
Escambia County has adopted a turtle-friendly light ordinance. It asks residents and renters to voluntarily close their drapes at night during nesting season. Even if people just closed them shortly after dark, it would make a huge difference.
Would it be enough? It might help, but the glow from Gulf Breeze across Santa Rosa Sound is [also] alluring... Lights at Pensacola Naval Air Station pose a similar problem for turtles on Fort Pickens and Perdido Key beaches.
As I sat in the dark [observing] the light pollution, I realized it's a huge challenge that needs to be addressed by the entire coastal community.
Why? For millions of years, sea turtles have been a vital part of ocean ecosystems, according to Oceana. Today, however, they're on the brink of extinction. Coastal development has shrunk their breeding grounds and light pollution has invaded what remains.
So, is it too much to ask, since we've taken so much for ourselves, to simply adopt the park rangers' slogan: "Lights out for sea turtles?"
Adapted from Kimberly Blair: Lights out for sea turtles