Turtle Friendly Lighting (TFL)

Currently, one of the biggest threats that sea turtles face is artificial lighting. Artificial lighting can deter nesting sea turtles from coming onto shore and misorient nesting and hatchling sea turtles away from the sea, resulting in their harm and/or death.

Report: The State of Turtle Friendly Lighting in the Cayman Islands

The Threat of Artificial Lighting – The Problem

Through 20 years of population monitoring, DoE has identified artificial lighting on beaches as the primary threat to the survival of sea turtle nesting populations in the Cayman Islands.

Photo: Artificial lighting shining on the nesting beach by Mark Orr

Bright lights that shine onto the beach deter female turtles from nesting and are a critical threat to hatchlings (baby turtles). When they emerge from their nests, hatchlings find the ocean by moving away from dark silhouettes and toward the brightest light they can see.

Photo: hatchling turtles make their way to the sea

When artificial lights on land are brighter than the reflection of the moon and stars on the ocean’s surface, hatchling turtles become ‘misoriented’ and crawl away from the sea.

Photo: Misoriented baby turtles heading towards artificial lights instead of the sea.

Every year, thousands of hatchlings are misoriented by artificial lights and die from exhaustion or dehydration or are killed by vehicles or predators.

Even if they 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.

Fortunately, there is a proven solution – turtle friendly lighting.

Turtle Friendly Lighting – The Solution

Energy-efficient, attractive turtle friendly lighting can be installed at beachfront properties to reduce misorientation of turtle hatchlings and increase turtle nesting, while meeting the needs of beachfront property owners.

Turtles spend most of their lives underwater so their eyes are attuned to blue, green, and yellow wavelengths and they are less sensitive to red and amber wavelengths.

Turtle friendly lighting uses an amber wavelength that resembles candlelight in colour and which provides a gentle, warm illumination.

Photo: Turtle Friendly Lighting at Silver Sands, Seven Mile Beach

Being turtle friendly does not mean that beachfront properties must be dark. Fixtures are carefully positioned to avoid illumination of the beach, while ensuring an appropriate level of illumination on pathways, pool decks, and other common areas. Residents can fully enjoy the property at night – and also protect turtle nesting populations and see the stars.

In the United States, turtle friendly lighting has been a legal requirement for over 20 years so these solutions are field-tested and do not compromise safety or security.

Human safety should not be compromised for turtle conservation; instead, both can be achieved through turtle friendly lighting.

Is turtle friendly lighting a legal requirement?

For new construction and docks on turtle nesting beaches, turtle friendly lighting is increasingly being required as a condition of approval by the Central Planning Authority and Cabinet.

Other than when required through conditions attached to planning permission for new construction on nesting beaches, turtle friendly lighting is not currently required by law in the Cayman Islands.

However, turtle friendly lighting is one of the proposed measures in a draft Sea Turtle Conservation Plan. A requirement for turtle friendly lighting for new development and phasing in for existing properties in sea turtle critical habitat received strong support during public consultation on the draft plan.

The 2019 Draft Sea Turtle Species Conservation Plan which incorporated public feedback was submitted and remains with the Cabinet for consideration.

Until the adoption of the Conservation Plan, an interim directive for the immediate protection of sea turtles and the designation of its Critical Habitat on Grand Cayman was enacted. Critical Habitat (Grand Cayman) and proposed Critical Habitat (Sister Islands) is turtle nesting habitat with the highest 90% of nest density values. Due to the Interim Directive, the DoE can require turtle friendly lighting for new developments on designated Critical Habitat and recommend turtle friendly lighting for new developments on turtle nesting beaches and proposed Critical Habitat (Sister Islands).

The adoption of the 2019 Draft Sea Turtle Species Conservation Plan would make turtle friendly lighting a legal requirement for new development in critical sea turtle habitat. Existing properties within critical sea turtle habitat  would be required to retrofit to/implement turtle friendly lighting within 3 years of the adoption of the Species Conservation Plan.

In the meantime, in collaboration with DoE, the Caribbean Utilities Company and National Roads Authority are introducing turtle friendly roadway lighting and many property owners are voluntarily making the transition to turtle friendly lighting in order to safeguard the future of turtle nesting populations in the Cayman Islands.

So far, participating properties have been very pleased with the result, and with the increase in turtle nesting on their properties.

Photo: Turtle Friendly Lighting at Renaissance Condominiums, Seven Mile Beach

Drifter’s Cove Condos, Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands Turtle Friendly Lighting Retrofit

BEFORE                                                               AFTER

Silver Sands Condos, Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands Turtle Friendly Lighting Retrofit

BEFORE                                                             AFTER

What should I do if I’m interested in installing turtle friendly lighting?

If you are interested in retrofitting to turtle friendly lighting or you have a planning or Cabinet condition requiring turtle friendly lighting, the DoE is happy to meet with you to help guide you through the turtle friendly lighting process.  We can also suggest architects and electrical contractors that have attended the DoE’s Turtle Friendly Lighting workshops and designed or installed turtle friendly lighting on other properties.

If you have a turtle friendly lighting condition, submission of a turtle friendly lighting plan to DoE is required as a part of your permission.

If you are retrofitting an existing property with turtle friendly lighting, we recommend the voluntary submission of a turtle friendly lighting plan to ensure the fixtures and bulbs you intend to use are turtle friendly and that they are shielded and positioned appropriately to prevent the misorientation of hatchling turtles.

Please note that submission of a lighting plan to DoE is strongly recommended, even if you are using a contractor that completed one of the DoE training sessions, or that designed or installed turtle friendly lighting on another property.

Photo: Turtle friendly lighting workshop, held by DoE with experts from Coastal Conservation Consultants.

Warning: All amber/red bulbs are not turtle friendly. It is extremely important that turtle friendly bulbs be certified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). This ensures that they have the correct turtle friendly wavelength of 560nm or greater.  DoE has encountered contractors that sell LED products that they claim are ‘turtle friendly’ but which are not certified turtle friendly products and which are not the correct wavelength. Properties complain that these products are poor quality and do not prevent misorientation of hatchling turtles. Because turtle friendly lighting has only recently been introduced in the Cayman Islands, DoE has also encountered excellent, professional architects, electricians, and contractors who are not yet fully-versed in all aspects of sea turtle lighting and who have therefore inadvertently designed or installed lighting that is not completely turtle friendly.

This is usually because they do not recognise that even turtle friendly products should not illuminate the beach and that hatchling turtles are extremely sensitive to even low levels of direct or indirect illumination. Therefore while they may use turtle friendly products, the design is not turtle friendly. See ‘Turtle Friendly Lighting Products’ and ‘Turtle Friendly Lighting Design’ for more information.

Lighting issues which may result in misorientation of hatchling turtles are easily corrected at the design stage, but are expensive to modify after products are purchased and installed.

A no-fee, no-obligation consultation with DoE provides the best information to ensure the satisfaction of property owners and the survival of turtle hatchlings.

Turtle Friendly Lighting Products

Every year the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) certifies wildlife-friendly fixtures. Their website ( lists several hundred currently-certified turtle friendly lighting fixtures and bulbs. The DoE has a selection of sample fixtures available to view and can provide a listing of recommended products.

Turtle friendly bulbs should always be certified by the FWC but there are additional options for turtle friendly fixtures. The products should also be UL or ETL listed.

Some turtle friendly lighting manufacturers may be in the process of renewing the FWC certification for certain fixtures, and other popular manufacturers provide products which can be customised to turtle friendly specifications: these fixtures must be carefully selected to be downward-directed, shielded, and compatible with certified turtle friendly bulbs.

Always consult with the DoE if you are considering a fixture that does not appear to have a current FWC certification. We are happy to advise on fixture selection prior to the submission of a lighting plan.

Turtle friendly lighting products are currently available directly from US manufacturers, as well as from turtle friendly lighting distributors such as Synergy Lighting in Florida; these products can be ordered by installers or individuals through a local freight forwarding company. They can be received on-island within 1-2 weeks however some fixtures have a lead-time for manufacture.

We are currently working with local retailers to assist them in stocking turtle friendly products.

Photo: DoE staff testing a sample turtle friendly fixture at a local condominium property.

Turtle Friendly Lighting Design

It is important to note that turtles are least attracted to long-wavelength, turtle friendly lights, but they are not blind to them. If the beach is illuminated, even by turtle friendly lights, the turtle hatchlings may still perceive the land to be brighter than the ocean and follow these lights away from the sea.

Therefore, all lighting, including turtle friendly lighting, should adhere to the following general principle: “Lighting should not directly, indirectly, or cumulatively illuminate the beach.”

To achieve this, turtle friendly lighting fixtures are typically downward directed and the concept of turtle friendly lighting follows three key principles:

  1. Keep it low – Mount fixtures as low to the ground as possible to reduce light spillage and use the lowest amount of light (lumens) needed for the area.
  2. Keep it long – Use long wavelength light sources (reds, oranges and true ambers) in the appropriate lighting wavelength of 560 nanometers or above.
  3. Keep it shielded – Fully shield the point source of light (i.e. the bulb and/or glowing lens) so that it is not directly visible from the beach.

The DoE’s ‘Turtle Friendly Lighting: Technical Advice Note’ published in 2018, provides information on:

  • How to develop a sea turtle lighting plan
  • Beachfront lighting principles
  • Beachfront lighting specifications

To view a copy of our Turtle Friendly Lighting Technical Advice Note, please click the link below:

Turtle Friendly Lighting Technical Advice Note (2018)

More information:

Please see our Turtle Friendly Lighting flyer at the link below:

Turtle Friendly Lighting flyer

To learn more even more about turtle friendly lighting email the Environmental Management Unit:

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