Monday, June 4, 2012

LEDs May Save Cocoa Beach Sea Turtles

LEDs May Save Cocoa Beach Sea Turtles

When we were in Maui back in March, we were always on the lookout for dolphins, whales, turtles and sea lions – either near shore or not.  A few days after arriving while we were playing at a beach near the condo we rented, a sea lion had come up on shore to sun bathe.  When we went on a snorkeling trip our last full day there, we saw dolphins, whales, turtles and sharks.  During all of these encounters there was nothing but natural light around.  Not even the “tourist” beaches had artificial light there.  But in other places around the country and world, beaches are lit up at night.  There are probably a slim few that are illuminated with LED lights, but now we can add Cocoa Beach.

Although the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill didn’t affect the area, the money the company has pumped into the Gulf of Mexico region because of it is being allocated to the area – because its beaches are considered vital to sea turtles.  The pier is getting a slice (about $100,000) of the $22 million BP paid out because of the incident and is using it to replace all of its pier lights with LED lights.  The lights will emit an amber color that will not attract sea turtles.

The lighting project was funded by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through BP donations to the organization’s Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife.  BP created the fund from proceeds of oil recovered during the accident.  The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, after receiving the funds turned to the Sea Turtle Conservancy out of Gainesville to see what would benefit the turtles most.

Currently, beachside owners face steep fines and possible jail time if they fail to comply with local lighting ordinances that protect sea turtle nesting – they must keep their lights from reaching the beach during nesting season (May 1 – October 31).  If inspectors walking the beach at night during the season can see your lights shining over the dune, you’re in violation.  The project has helped these owners fund an LED changeover – with the conservancy paying in full for owners who couldn’t afford to split the cost.

Why LED lights?  If too much light reaches the beach, disorientated sea turtle hatchlings could head in a direction they shouldn’t (like the road) instead of into the ocean.  The babies already face tremendous odds: only 1 in every 1,000 actually survives to adulthood.  Since the hatchlings are “preprogrammed” to sprint toward the brightest light (usually the ocean’s glare) upon hatching, the dangers of bright non-natural light are a real concern.  The amber-colored LEDs emit a soft glow rather than the harsh, bright light of other bulbs.

There was no estimate on when the project will be complete, but when it is, I may go and do some sea turtle-watching.

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