The nesting population of turtles in the Cayman Islands is critically small so every nest counts! Through over 20 years of population monitoring, Department of Environment (DoE) has identified artificial lighting on Cayman’s beaches as one of the greatest threats to the survival of sea turtle nesting populations. Bright lights on the beach can deter female turtles from nesting and cause baby turtles to crawl away from the sea, where they die from dehydration, exhaustion, predators or vehicles.
When installed correctly, turtle friendly lighting is a proven solution. This lighting is specifically designed to meet the needs of beachfront property owners without impacting sea turtles. As turtle friendly lighting is a legal requirement in Florida, these methods are widely field-tested. Turtle friendly lighting does not mean that properties must be dark – instead, lights with an amber wavelength resembling candlelight can be utilised, as this wavelength is least attractive to hatchling turtles, and lights can be directed to illuminate only areas of the property that are used by residents (rather than shining inefficiently into the sky and toward the beach). Today’s sea turtle friendly fixtures are resistant to corrosion and designed to withstand the challenges of being used on beachfront properties. These fixtures also utilize energy-efficient LED bulbs, which offer cost savings over the life of the bulb. Studies also show that turtle friendly lighting does not compromise security.
To address the threat posed by artificial lighting on the highest density nesting beaches, the DoE applied for money from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for a Turtle Friendly Lighting Retrofit Project in critical habitat for sea turtle nesting.
Phase 1 of the EPF Turtle Friendly Lighting Retrofit Project saw a large portion of the funding allocated to retrofitting existing properties on the highest density nesting beach in Grand Cayman, with the highest rate of baby turtle misorientations, to turtle friendly lighting. This funding was awarded for the period 2018 to 2020.
This Phase is ongoing with funding being provided on a matched contribution basis. The DoE funds lighting plan design and provides certified turtle friendly light fixtures and fittings to eligible properties within this stretch of the coastline; properties pay for the cost of the lighting installation. This model is based on successful grant-funded turtle friendly lighting retrofit programmes in Florida. Fixtures and fittings are installed in accordance with a turtle friendly lighting plan which has been approved by the DOE and agreed by the property owners. We have now retrofitted several properties in Grand Cayman (see photos below) including:
- Drifter’s Cove
- Christopher Columbus
- Silver Sands
- The Renaissance
Phase 1 of the turtle friendly lighting project also included:
- A free turtle friendly lighting design and installation workshop for local lighting contractors, designers, architects and lighting retailers. Held in March 2018, the workshops were led by Florida-based turtle friendly lighting experts, who have been involved in turtle friendly lighting projects for more than 14 years, and have conducted more than 400 retrofits of beachfront properties and;
- A partnership with DoE, the National Roads Authority and CUC to retrofit existing streetlights to certified turtle friendly ones in areas of critical habitat in Grand Cayman with the most misorientations historically caused by streetlights.
We pursued this project for three key reasons:
- Direct and immediate conservation benefit – There is no mandatory requirement for turtle friendly lighting in the Cayman Islands. Turtle friendly lighting is one of the proposed measures in the DoE’s Draft Sea Turtle Conservation Plan (linked below). A requirement for turtle friendly lighting for new development and a phased approach for existing properties in sea turtle critical habitat received strong support during the initial public consultation on the draft plan. By providing funds to assist with the retrofit of selected properties and streetlights in highest density nesting habitat, the survival of endangered sea turtle hatchlings will immediately be increased.
- To provide local examples of model turtle friendly lighting properties – The properties that have been retrofitted to-date demonstrate the aesthetic appeal of turtle friendly lighting and the appropriate levels of illumination that it provides, to meet the needs of both coastal residents and turtle nesting populations. It also showcases a wide range of turtle friendly products that properties can use when designing turtle friendly lighting.
- To build local turtle friendly lighting capacity –The DoE aims to assist in the development of local private sector capacity for turtle friendly lighting design, supply, and installation. In addition to our retrofit project, when DoE reviews Planning or Coastal Works applications we often recommend a condition for turtle friendly for any new builds in turtle nesting habitat. As such, turtle friendly lighting is increasingly being required as a condition of approval by the Central Planning Authority and Cabinet. Often turtle friendly lighting plans are designed by firms based outside of the Cayman Islands. We hope that by building local capacity, soon more plans can be designed locally and lighting suppliers based in the Cayman Islands will begin to stock turtle friendly lighting products.
Our goal for Phase 2 is to partner with more properties in critical habitat in Grand Cayman, to help make critically important sea turtle beaches more turtle friendly. Turtle friendly lighting may increase turtle nesting at properties, reduce or eliminate deaths of baby turtles due to artificial lights, and provide opportunities for low-season ecotourism and does not compromise the safety, security or convenience of residents or guests.
To be eligible to participate in Phase 2, your property must be located in, or immediately adjacent to, critical habitat for sea turtle nesting. To check if your property is in critical habitat please see the maps enclosed within the National Conservation Council’s Interim Directive (linked below).
If you are located in critical habitat and you are interested in participating in Phase 2 of the Turtle Friendly Lighting EPF Retrofit Project please complete the Expression of Interest form by Friday, 16 October 2020 by visiting the link below.
Please note: The expression of interest does not represent a commitment to participate and completing the form does not guarantee your property will be chosen. A limited number of properties will be selected based on factors such as sea turtle nesting density, projected retrofit cost (taking into account the amount of matching funds contributed by the property), the timeframe when work can commence, willingness to develop an agreement to maintain turtle friendly practices, and interest from adjacent properties to maximise the amount of turtle friendly habitat which can be created.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us by email at [email protected] or by phone at 244-5932 (Lauren Dombowsky, DoE Senior Environmental Assessment Officer) or 244-5983 (Jerrica Wood, DoE Sustainable Development Officer).