For centuries sea turtles have emerged from the water to lay their eggs on Cayman’s sandy beaches.
As these beaches become more developed, artificial lighting is emerging as a deadly threat to the future of these endangered nesting populations. The solution: turtle-friendly lighting.
Tiny turtle hatchlings use the light of the moon to lead the way from shore to sea. Once they reach the surf, the hatchlings face long odds on the journey to adulthood.
“Typically only one in 1000 hatchlings survive to adulthood, but those are just the odds under natural conditions,” said DOE Research Officer Janice Blumenthal.
Ms. Blumenthal told Cayman 27 artificial lighting near beaches can lead the hatchlings the wrong way, and into great peril.
“Every year thousands of hatchlings or misoriented on our beaches, they follow lights away from the sea, where they are killed in parking lot and in roads, they die of exhaustion, and dehydration,” said Ms. Blumenthal.
“It just takes one light to misorient thousands of hatchlings in a nesting season and it could be critically damaging,” said DOE Environmental Management Unit Manager Wendy Williams.
She told Cayman 27 that’s why the DOE is working with owners to retro-fit their properties with turtle-friendly lighting.
“Turtle-friendly lighting follows three basic principles, it has to be certain wavelengths, it’d basically kind of the amber hues of the color spectrum, it has to be kept low to the ground and it has to be shielded so that the light is not getting onto the beach and illuminating it,” she explained.
Ms. Williams said turtle-friendly lighting has been mandatory in Florida for decades, the technology is tried and true.
“It is not intended to put the conservation of turtles in front of the security and safety of a property,” said Ms. Williams. “It’s a proven solution that matches the needs of property owners as well as helping turtle conservation.”
The DOE recently completed a series of workshops providing architects and electrical contractors information and training on turtle-friendly lighting principles.
“So that when a property owner does approach us and say, we want turtle-friendly lighting, there is on the island expertise to try to assist with that,” said Ms. Williams.
The DOE said it’s considering an accreditation scheme to acknowledge properties who retro-fit or modify their lighting to turtle-friendly standards.
Another incentive: the DOE said some property owners have slashed their energy costs by going turtle-friendly.