Please turn your lights off, the turtles are nesting: ensuring that federal, state, and local laws help guide endangered marine turtle hatchlings in Florida to the right source of light.

Author:Rivera, Cameryn
 
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  1. Introduction II. Background on Sea Turtles and The Challenges to Survive A. Why are Sea Turtles Important? B. The Family: Caretta, Chelonia and Dermochelys C. Disorientation and Deterrence: The Moon and Artificial Lighting III. Kindling Action: Laws on Sea Turtle Protection A. Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 B. Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act IV. Local Ordinance Regulations of Artificial Lighting In Florida A. The Rule Intended to Guide: The Model Lighting Ordinance in Florida B. The City Intended to Protect: Volusia County, FL V. Analyzing Coordination And Conservation Efforts in Sea Turtle Law VI. Proposed Solutions: A Guiding L.I.G.H.T. For Sea Turtle Protections A. Limit Artificial Lights: Educate Coastal Residents on Limiting Beachfront Lighting B. Issue Hotel Construction Permits Only on a Showing of "Minimal Disturbance" to Sea Turtle Nesting C. Gather Sea Turtle Nesting and Observation Data by Providing State Grants to Marine Turtle Research and Study D. Habitat Protections: Require Mandatory Lighting Law Standards to Mitigate the High Levels of Artificial Light Exploitation Occurring on Nesting Beaches E. Threaten the Right Species: Enforce Stricter Penalties for Noncompliant Hotel and Private Lot Owners VII. Conclusion You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground... by night you led with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take. (1) I. INTRODUCTION

    Light--a "natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible." (2) It is a source of illumination in a bedroom at night and a decorative accessory during Christmas time. Signal lights guide vehicles in and through traffic and a light can be found as an expression in someone's eyes, indicating a particular emotion or mood. Finding the light can be a spiritual illumination by divine truth. The people of Egypt needed a pillar of firelight to pass through the red sea. Harriet Tubman used candlelight to guide slaves through the night to escape the south. (3) Thomas Edison worked on at least 3,000 different theories until he invented an efficient incandescent lamp for household use. (4) Human existence is sustained by the visible spectrum of light--the sun's hot gas produces light, like an incandescent light bulb.

    Late in the night, the light of the moon provides a direct guide for sea turtle hatchlings to the ocean and a sensor for sea turtle mothers to nest on land. (5) Bearing its full face, the moon alerts baby sea turtles to break out of their shell to begin an epic journey to the sea. Hatchlings possess an inborn tendency to move in the brightest direction, which on a natural beach is an uninterrupted open view of the lunar glow in the dark sky, reflecting over * the ocean. (6) But, on a public beach, thousands of beach vacationers reside, private lots span for miles, and hotel developments line virtually every inch of coastal shoreline. A competing brighter and more alluring form of light emanating from land insolently interrupts what seems like a natural pattern of sea turtle behavior. (7) Sea turtle hatchlings are unable to distinguish the ocean from land, or the moon's light from an artificial light, and find themselves gravitated to follow the latter. (8) What ends up happening to many baby sea turtles is an unanticipated trek through dry sand, concrete private lots, porch stairs, and pool decks. (9) In a few short minutes unforeseen predators may eat up hatchlings, or their tiny marine-bound and newly born bodies dry up and lay lifeless from the lack of oceanic fluid. (10)

    Additionally, mother sea turtles are in danger of being deterred to nest on beaches that have bright lights directly illuminating the shore. "Sadie," a mother sea turtle found offshore by a local interest group has an unfortunate story to highlight the reality of artificial lighting for nesting females. (11) Sadie was brought to a local sea turtle conservation hospital after a woman found her on the beach fallen off an embankment. (12) The sea turtle mother had come onto the beach to nest but failed; therefore, she was carrying eggs when she arrived at a sea turtle hospital. (13) Doctors speculate that her inability to find a dark and unlit beach to lay her eggs left her wandering for miles off the coast. (14) In the process, Sadie had fractured her plastron. (15) Sadie was x-rayed and kept in a small tank for a short time until it was decided to try to induce labor." (16) She received injections of oxytocin, (17) and over three days' time deposited about seventy-five eggs that were taken out to the local beach and placed in an artificial nest. (18) Unfortunately, none of the eggs hatched. (19)

    In Florida, artificial lighting is a huge problem for marine turtle hatchlings and nesting mothers like Sadie. (20) Hotel and private beachfront property owners display bright lights that jeopardize the habitats of three federally protected marine turtle species: the loggerhead, (21) leatherback, (22) and green turtle. (23) Under federal law, these sea turtles are now endangered, (24) and are dangerously close to extinction. (25) The Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act ("FMTPA") (26) states that Florida has more endangered sea turtle species than any other continental state. (27) Based on this fact, Florida municipalities have enacted lighting ordinances to attempt to decrease the high death toll of sea turtle hatchlings. (28) All levels of government protection provide the sphere of sea turtle conservation that should be adequate for the population to be removed from the Endangered Species list. However, there may be too many parties involved to hold anyone responsible for sea turtle deaths occurring from artificial lighting.

    The Endangered Species Act ("ESA") provides a means to protect and conserve endangered sea turtle species and their ecosystem, as well as to issue penalties if a person harms marine turtles. (29) In Florida, the Coastal Zone Protection Act of 1985 ("CZPA"), (30) the Marine Turtle Protection Act ("MTPA"), (31) Florida Statute section 161.163, titled Coastal Areas Used By Sea Turtles, (32) the Florida Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP"), and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are jointly authorized to administer programs to protect sea turtle hatchlings from artificial lighting. (33) To implement Florida Statute [section]161.163, the DEP promulgated 62B-55 of the Florida Administrative Code to guide local governments in developing ordinances and enforcement strategies, and suggests how local governments should assess penalties sufficient to deter violations and promote compliance with the ESA. (34) However, the FWS is not authorized to regulate the conservation efforts; it merely collects data and distributes information. Finally, if local governments adopt the above rules, local ordinance laws provide a lower tier of protection for sea turtles against artificial lighting. (35) Ordinances may issue discretionary penalties to persons who harm or disturb sea turtle behavioral patterns. (36)

    However, with the growing number of legal frameworks in place for sea turtles, it can be overwhelming to ensure successful sea turtle protection. Perhaps sea turtles hatchlings in Florida, who are unwillingly subjects to increasing disorientation reports, are in need of cohesive and comprehensible laws to oversee and protect their existence. Federal, state, and local regulations are lacking the necessary protections that sea turtles are in current need of in Florida. To be effective sea turtle laws can be successful if attainable goals exist, the appropriate authorities are handling their layer of concern, and parties that act in a prohibited manner against sea turtle nesting sites are rightfully held responsible.

    Utilizing preexisting and current statistical data of sea turtle habitat populations and their behavioral trends, while analyzing the effectiveness of the local, state, and federal laws to respond to this data, this article will determine if such laws are sufficient for sea turtle protection against fatal artificial lighting in coastal areas in Florida. Furthermore, this article will attempt to determine whether local artificial lighting ordinances are effectively protecting marine turtle behavioral patterns with such discretionary authority to issue penalties without state or federal standards. The depleting population of sea turtles in Florida requires full assurance of the current and future conservation of their unique species. (37)

    Part I of this paper provides background information on sea turtle behavioral patterns in nesting and hatching, while also highlighting the problems of disorientation and nesting deterrence. Part II examines federal and state laws that authorize and delegate sea turtle oversight protections, administer legal and practical protection, and attempt to enforce the laws to prevent sea turtle disturbances or deaths. Part III discusses local ordinance regulations on artificial lighting and comments on the Model Lighting Ordinance in Florida. Part IV analyzes sea turtle law coordination and conservation at the federal, state law, and local ordinance level, while commenting on a local county's efforts and missteps. Finally, Part V proposes practical initiatives and assistance from citizens to facilitate the state of Florida and its local governments in their effort to allow sea turtles the full opportunity to live safely through the low hatchling survival rate.

  2. BACKGROUND ON SEA TURTLES AND THE CHALLENGES TO SURVIVE

    1. WHY ARE SEA TURTLES IMPORTANT?

      Many people ignore the value of sea turtles. Sea turtles are mainly valuable to people for pure enjoyment. The joy of watching hours-old sea turtles scurry into the dark ocean waters, or a mother sea turtle slowly reach land is particularly fascinating for adults and children alike. Florida residents and tourists know that Florida is a major sea turtle habitat state. (38) During the...

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