Sea Turtle Disorientation Data Collection and Management 

Beachfront lighting interferes with sea turtle reproduction by reducing the availability of suitable nesting habitat and by disorienting both adult and hatchlings landward as they attempt to leave the beach after nesting or hatching.  Each year, nesting females and thousands of nests are impacted by light from beachfront development along Florida’s beaches.  Many local governments have adopted beachfront lighting ordinances to address this impact, but accurate, updated information on specific lighting impacts is needed for timely enforcement of these ordinances. 

Informative Links:

Local Lighting Ordinances

Wildlife Lighting

Disorientation Photo Gallery (coming soon)

MTP Reporting

Educational Information 

Disorientation events occur when artificial lighting on sea turtle nesting beaches disrupts the ability of nesting females and hatchlings to find the sea from the beach. Adult and hatchling sea turtles instinctively move away from the dark silhouette of landward dunes and towards the brighter open horizon of the ocean.  Artificial lights near the beach are often brighter than the ocean horizon, leading adult females and hatchlings to disorient, or crawl in the wrong direction.  Disorientations from artificial lighting are a significant sea turtle conservation problem in Florida. 

 Adult Nesting Female Hazards

Nesting female sea turtles can be impacted by artificial lighting when choosing a nesting site or when returning to the sea. Females may be deterred from nesting in areas that are too bright, which can cause them to select a less suitable location to lay their nests. Females that do crawl onto a brighter beach to nest can also become disoriented by artificial lights when trying to return to the ocean, ending up in parking lots, swimming pools, and on busy thoroughfares. 

 Hatchling Hazards

When the hatchlings emerge from nests at night, they rely on vision to help them find the water. Disorientation events are very harmful to hatchlings because the extra time spent crawling in the wrong direction often leads to predation, dehydration, and exhaustion. Sometimes hatchlings crawl into the road where they are run over by cars. Even if disoriented hatchlings eventually reach the water, they may not have enough energy for the long swim offshore. These events result in thousands of hatchling deaths each year. 


 

Adult-disorientation-on-A1A  Beachfront-lighting-with-negative-impacts  Hatchlings-disoriented-in-a-road

Photos left to right: An adult female loggerhead disoriented onto a roadway, lighting on beachfront properties that could be the cause of future disorientations, and hatchlings that became disoriented and wandered out into a parking lot.


 

 Reporting

Long-term monitoring of this threat involves an annual statewide effort to gather information for disorientation reports submitted by FWC-authorized Marine Turtle Permit Holders. The information is used to facilitate light management efforts on nesting beaches and to research additional remedies for the threats caused by lighting. The disorientation data presented below represent the number of hatchling and adult (nesting female) disorientation events reported to the FWC. 

Loggerhead Disorientation Data 2011 – 2015 Adobe PDF

Green Turtle Disorientation Data 2011 – 2015 Adobe PDF

Leatherback Disorientation Data 2011 – 2015 Adobe PDF

(The number of disorientation events listed have not been standardized to reflect yearly fluctuations in nesting, but can be compared to yearly nest numbers available from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI).)


 

 Grant Summary

FWC has been awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund the development of an updated database to record disorientation events attributed to beachfront lighting, along with online and FWC staff led training classes to improve documentation of disorientation events. This will provide FWC’s Marine Turtle Permit Holders with a convenient, automated way to submit sea turtle disorientation reports and allow the public to access statewide disorientation information.

Our goal is to maximize the effectiveness of FWC's existing disorientation reporting program to significantly reduce the lighting impacts to nests on the beach during nesting season.  The improved procedures will allow for quick and decisive actions to be taken by local government, management authorities, property managers and owners to resolve problem lights before additional impacts to sea turtle nests occur on their beaches.

 

 



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