By Wes Wolfe
The resurgence of loggerhead sea turtles along the Florida and Georgia coasts is thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of people. That work includes changes to how coastal businesses and residents light their properties, as artificial light can be a deadly distraction for nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings.
According to a sea turtle conservation advocate, Nassau County’s ordinances aren’t getting the job done when it comes to regulating lighting to protect sea turtles.
“The last time I was here was before COVID, and I was promised by a couple of directors, by the code enforcement person, that the sea turtle lighting ordinance would be updated,” Casey Jones of Florida Sea Turtle Watch said to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners.
“I have to break some bad news — y’all have the worst sea turtle lighting ordinance in Northeast Florida.”
He added that the only worse ordinances on the state’s Atlantic Coast are toward Miami. A problem now with beachfront properties is the conversion to bright white LED bulbs, which can distract sea turtles who navigate using the light of the moon.
The yellowish, amber color of old sodium lights, he said, were a little friendlier toward sea turtles.
“Now they make new LED lights that are amber, and I want to say it’s as easy as changing a bulb,” Jones said. “Homeowners have been really good. Any new construction falls under (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulation), and you go to all these high-rise condos, and they’ve got these beautiful, super-bright amber lights that’s sea-turtle friendly.”
The issue has been discussed previously, according to County Manager Taco Pope.
“I can tell you we’re in regular communication with Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch — we met with them as late as last week,” Pope said. “We put out information last turtle (nesting) season to all of the vacation spots … regarding making sure visitors understand” sea turtle regulations.
“We’ve also already crafted and prepared to send out information ahead of this season and have light surveys that were performed last year. We performed (them) this year, and we have coordinated to have code enforcement action throughout the turtle (nesting) season.”
Unless Commissioners wish it, Pope said the sea turtle ordinance isn’t coming back up for consideration, though the county will continue in its relationship with Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch to coordinate on code enforcement.
“We’ll do some more conversation, and see what the direction of the Board is,” Commission Chairman Klynt Farmer said.