Sea Turtle Disorientations

Disorientations and Hazards to Sea Turtles 


Beachfront Lighting

What are

Nesting Female

Disorientation Hazards: Adult Nesting Females


Disorientation Hazards: Hatchlings

What are Disorientations?

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 have an inborn tendency to move in the brightest direction, instinctively crawling away from the dark silhouettes of landward dunes and vegetation 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.

Each year, nesting females and thousands of nests are impacted by light from beachfront development along Florida’s beaches. Beachfront lighting interferes with sea turtle reproduction by reducing the availability of suitable dark nesting habitat. Both adult females and hatchlings can be disoriented landward by artificial lighting as they attempt to leave the beach after nesting or hatching. 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.

Commonly asked questions about artificial lighting and sea turtle behavior are available here.

Disorientation Hazards: Adult Nesting Female

Nesting female sea turtles can be impacted by artificial lighting when choosing a nesting site or when returning to the sea. When choosing a nesting site, females may be deterred from areas that are too bright, which can cause them to select a less suitable location to lay their nests. If they do choose a beach with artificial lighting, they may abandon their nesting attempt, which results in a false crawl. They can also become disoriented after they have nested and are attempting to return to the ocean. They often travel hundreds of yards in the wrong direction, ending up in parking lots, swimming pools, and on busy thoroughfares.

Disorientation Hazards: Hatchlings

When hatchlings emerge from their nests at night, they rely on vision to help them find the water by distinguishing relative patterns of light and dark. Disorientation events are very harmful to hatchlings because the extra time spent crawling in the wrong direction depletes their small store of energy. Disoriented hatchlings are subject to dehydration, exhaustion, and predation by various beach-dwelling predators, all of which can be fatal. 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 to avoid predators in the sea or for the long swim offshore . These events result in thousands of hatchling deaths each year.

 Data Collection and Management

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 2012 – 2016 Adobe PDF

Green Turtle Disorientation Data 2012 – 2016 Adobe PDF

Leatherback Disorientation Data 2012 – 2016 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).)

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Local Lighting Ordinances


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Turtle in road

Disorientation Photo Gallery

 Grant Summary

FWC has been awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation External Website 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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