FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — Many sea turtle hatchlings on Florida beaches are not making it to the ocean due to disorientation caused by artificial lights.
According to a WBBH report, disorientation has affected roughly 20% of all nests on Fort Myers Beach this season. In an August 5 incident at a beach resort, only 10 hatchlings made it to the ocean out of the 80-120 eggs laid in an average sea turtle nest.
“The turtles, the hatchlings, came out of the nest and there was an artificial light that attracted them in a different way than the water,” Cindy Johnson, a volunteer with Turtle Time, told WBBH. Turtle Time is the conservation organization that oversees the Fort Myers Beach turtle nesting season.
“They’re looking for the light of the horizon shining on the Gulf,” Johnson told WBBH. “They’ll just keep wandering and looking for the water and they usually end up digging from dehydration.”
WBBH said that hatchlings from the nest were found elsewhere on the beach, in the parking lot and swimming in the hotel pool. Hatchlings were even found on Estero Boulevard, the island’s main drag.
“One was actually found a whole night and day later,” Johnson said. “So it was wandering around that whole time.”
Turtle Time told WBBH that seven nests were found to be disoriented this season, which accounts for 20% of all nests. They said that if it weren’t for artificial lights, the hatchlings would head straight for the ocean.
The hotel where the disoriented turtles were found, Pink Shell Resort, told WBBH it will dedicate $400,000 to turtle conservation as part of their upcoming $7.4 million renovation.
“It’s devastating to all of us that the turtles didn’t get to the water,” Bill Waichilis, General Manager of Pink Shell Resort, told WBBH. “I mean, it’s horrible.”
The resort said it plans to tint every ocean-facing window with a 15% film and put turtle-safe bulbs in all lights. They said they will also reach out to guests to explain the importance of keeping lights off at night on the beach.
“We’ll be the first completely turtle complaint resort in Southwest Florida come February,” Waichulis said.
Hatchlings on nearby southwest Florida beaches have also experienced disorientation. WBBH reported that 10% of beaches on Sanibel and Captiva islands were affected.
As for the Tampa Bay area, there have been 344 disorientation incidents since May of 2022. Here’s the breakdown by county, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s sea turtle disorientation survey:
- Manatee: 95 (90 in 2021)
- Pinellas: 113 (84 in 2021)
- Sarasota: 136 (199 in 2021)
There have been 1,898 disorientations so far this sea turtle season, compared to 2,433 in the 2021 season.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Johnson said. Beachgoers and residents can take simple steps to make sure turtles make it to the ocean safety. According to the FWC, you should turn off lights and keep blinds and curtains drawn at night from May to October. Most Florida beaches have local ordinances requiring it.