Treasure Island’s four-year quest to help guide sea turtles to the water is finally complete.
In 2017, Duke Energy, with permission from the City of Treasure Island, changed the streetlights on Gulf Boulevard from amber high-pressure sodium lights – better for turtles, but not officially turtle compliant – to abrasive, white, non-turtle-friendly LED lights.
“We were led to believe that they were going to be turtle-friendly lights, only to find that they were extremely bright and not turtle-friendly,” Assistant Public Works Director Stacy Boyles said.
This change led to disorientation for nesting turtles and hatchlings, according to Boyles.
“It’s a bit of a misconception that the lights only affect the hatchlings. They definitely disorient the nesting turtles as well,” Boyles said. “The artificial lighting confuses them as they’re used to looking for the moonlight and how it reflects off the water.”
The city requested a design variance from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), asking for turtle-friendly amber light installations because of the rise in sea turtle disorientation.
“The reason why a variance was needed was because on state roads, there requires a certain amount of lighting for safety purposes,” Boyles said. “We believed that it was important for FDOT to take it a step further and change their requirements in the state design manual so that anyone can use turtle-friendly street lights on coastal state roads.”
FDOT approved and implemented this update and commissioned approved streetlights that met the requirements for safety of both humans and wildlife.
In addition to the FDOT and Duke Energy, the city worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Pinellas County Coastal Management and State Representative Linda Chaney on the project.
“We now have eight trial, full cut-off, amber-shielded street lights installed in Treasure Island on 112th Avenue on Gulf Boulevard,” Boyles said.
The lights passed the FWC’s inspection with a requested minor tweak to the amber shields.
Treasure Island set a new coastal lighting ordinance – left up to the discretion of the property owner, but stating that, during nesting season you should not be able to see the light bulb or source anywhere on the beach, unless you have an amber wavelength light.
“One of the reasons why we were really excited to get this done is because the city and the state really need to be setting a positive example. We talk to our business owners and our property owners all the time about our turtle-friendly lighting, but it’s hard to not practice what you preach,” Boyles said.
Florida is one of the only locations in the world where loggerhead turtles nest. Boyles wants to remind beach visitors to clean up their trash, take down tents and sandcastles and fill in holes when they leave the beach, particularly during nesting season, which lasts through October. These can serve as obstacles to turtles trying to get back in the water.