Due to recent increases in nesting, many Caymanians and residents have seen nesting turtles for the first time and many visitors have told Department of Environment that they will plan their next vacation to the Cayman Island during the turtle nesting season (May to September) or in order to see nests hatch (July to early November).
However, as more nesting now occurs on developed beaches, threats to turtles have also increased – making the survival of nesting sea turtles in the Cayman Islands uncertain.
Lights from hotels, condominiums, streetlights, and houses that shine onto the beach discourage female turtles from nesting and are a critical threat to baby turtles (“called hatchlings”). When they emerge from their nests, hatchlings find the ocean by heading toward the brightest light they can see. On an undeveloped beach, this is the moon and stars reflecting off the ocean’s surface but artificial lights are often much brighter and lead the baby turtles toward land, where they die from exhaustion, dehydration, vehicles, or predators. In this way, even a single light on the beach can kill thousands of hatchlings. Even if hatchlings reach the sea, studies show that bright lights may cause them to swim in circles near shore, where they are easy prey for predatory fish, instead of finding their way to deeper, safer waters.
Hatchlings head for the brightest light they can see. Photo: Mark Orr
Fortunately, there is a win-win solution for beachfront residents and turtles: cost-effective, efficient ‘turtle friendly’ lighting can be implemented at beachfront properties to drastically reduce misorientation of hatchling turtles, increase turtle nesting, and promote low season eco-tourism.A desire to protect nesting turtles, turtle nests, and hatchlings has already been shown by beachfront residents, the Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC), and hotel and condominium managers, who have partnered with DoE over the years to report sea turtle tracks and nests, turtle off beachfront lights when a nest nears hatching, and rescue and release misoriented hatchlings. To protect hatchlings, lights can be switched off or disconnected when known nests are predicted to hatch. However, for many properties, existing lighting configurations leave properties very dark when all the lights that shine onto the beach are turned off. For these properties, it is not possible to turn off lights for the duration of the nesting season, so unknown nests and nests hatching early or late are unprotected. With increasing numbers of nests on Seven Mile Beach and other developed beaches, the only long-term win-win solution to prevent the deaths of hatchlings is through a process of installing ‘turtle friendly’ lighting on beachfront properties.
Each year, more than 10,000 hatchling turtles are threatened by lights that shine onto our beaches. Photo: Mark Orr
Turtle friendly lighting describes a suite of lighting options, designed to fully and continuously meet the needs of beachfront residents without adversely impacting sea turtles. Lights on beachfront properties can be directed away from the sea or blocked from reaching the beach and studies have also shown that hatchling turtles are last attracted to lights of certain wavelengths (ambers, yellows and reds). Cost effective and flexible options for turtle friendly lighting include planting vegetation such as hedges in front of lights, lowering and shading lights, putting security lights on motion detectors, placing turtle friendly bulbs in existing fixtures, and replacing selected lights with turtle friendly fixtures.As turtle friendly lighting is now a legal requirement in Florida and other US states, these methods are widely field-tested. Many of these adapted lighting options will not be apparent to guests, while others are visually and architecturally appealing – for example, amber bulbs are often likened to candle light. It has also been demonstrated that turtle friendly lighting does not mean that beach front properties must be dark – instead, lights can be directed to illuminate only areas of the property that are used and enjoyed by residents rather than shining inefficiently into the sky and toward the beach. Thus, not only will turtle-friendly lighting reduce impact on turtles, but it may also reduce energy costs and attract more holiday makers as turtle nesting increases.
The DoE has published a document entitled ‘Turtle Lighting: Advice & Guidelines’ which seeks to:
- Increase awareness of the effects of light on marine turtles;
- Demonstrate how the deleterious effects of light can be avoided and minimized to the fullest extent possible during project development design;
- Outline how property occupiers, owners and managers can introduce management strategies or adapt lighting on existing properties to minimize the adverse impacts upon marine turtles.
To view the Guidelines and associated Appendix, please click on the following buttons:
For more details, see the following fliers and contact us for further information.