Coastal residents, beachgoers should dim lights or face fines

Turn off or shade those beach lights tonight, or you could face a fine and jail time for disorienting endangered baby sea turtles.

Under local ordinances, coastal residents must keep their lights from reaching the beach during official sea turtle nesting season, which runs today through Oct. 31.

Llew Ehrhart, a marine turtle biologist who monitors sea turtle nesting on Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, found a loggerhead nest April 11: “Just about a week earlier than ever before,” said Ehrhart, a University of Central Florida professor of biology. “A number of people around the state have had the earliest loggerhead nesting ever.”

Some studies also have documented sea turtles nesting on average about a week earlier than they did historically.

Biologists aren’t sure whether that benefits or harms turtles. It could allow for some female leatherbacks to make more nests than they otherwise would.

But it also could expose more green sea turtle nests to the peak of hurricane season in mid September, putting more of their eggs at risk of washing out during storms.

“It could cause nesting to be more affected by tropical storms,” Ehrhart said.

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