Sea Turtles die as world ‘experts’ sit back do next to nothing - light pollution (pt 1/2)
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Most people wouldn’t look at a light bulb and think it’s a weapon of mass destruction. For newborn sea turtle hatchlings they can be. Death by light pollution is one of the biggest killers globally. To put it into perspective if the hatchlings were human and not reptile the millions killed every year would qualify as an immediate global threat to life. Action would be taken because humans value their own species above all else and, for the majority, the only species they actually care about saving. If that were not true we wouldn’t be having the final mass extinction we currently have unleashed.
Light pollution comes from many courses, direct from a building or street light and indirect like skyglow. The lights don’t exist on their own they come with coastal development. Most of the coastline in the US is already developed, so much that it’s hard to see where the dunes and beach vegetation are. This is where the bulk of light pollution comes from. The greatest threat to sea turtle survival in Florida is the state agency Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC).
‘The majority of hatchlings crawl toward artificial light and away from the ocean leaving their death tracks in the sand to be seen in the morning’
Coastal development & Light pollution
Coastal development is, in theory, something we can control but we don’t. Along the coast of Florida, and most of the US, there is barely a patch of land left to build on. Decades of out of control development has destroyed the natural beauty of the beach while exacerbating erosion to new heights. Every couple of years beach re-nourishment takes places only to have the sand washed away in a few short months. Beach vegetation and dunes have been removed so coastal dwellers have a view and in return nature’s way of preventing erosion and floods has gone out to sea as well.
Little data is recorded on this around the world but in Florida it is recorded. We know that, depending on the beach, anywhere from 50 -100% of hatchlings die moments after leaving their nest from light pollution. A few dark beaches exist but not enough to save the species without drastic immediate measures implemented. There are local. State and Federal laws but none have ever been enforced. Over 30 years of paperwork has been sent to the state agency Florida Fish & Wildlife showing the nightly death toll. The problem has not been addressed except for a few exceptions.
In 2003 a study was done by Mike Salmon from Florida Atlantic University and husband of Jeanette Wyneken. In 2020 their budget was $900 million.
Another study in 2007. All anyone has to do is spend a couple of nights on the beach and see for themselves.
Ft. Lauderdale Lighting Ordinance Sec. 6-51 It is the policy of the City of Fort Lauderdale that no artificial light shall illuminate any area of the incorporated beaches of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
NBC South Florida news story from 2010 showing FWC law enforcement witnessing disorientated hatchlings from light that violate the law their agency is paid to enforce…but don’t. Incompetence or something more vile? Click video to watch
One of the many examples of how FWC is deliberately killing sea turtles by getting rid of those saving them. FWC is paid to protect sea turtles ask yourself why the lies?
Palm Beach County, Florida in 2009. This is what passes as protected habitat for endangered species
The clear message. Florida has NEVER ever done anything about this it has only gotten worse despite this being a violation of local, state and federal laws. Pompano Beach, Fl 2018
Here is a statement from Dr. Kirt Rusenko, the former head of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center Sea Turtle program regarding FWC do-nothing policy. “When I began work as Marine Turtle Permit Holder #041 in 1996, I thought the many sea turtle hatchling disorientation reports I sent to FWC would make a difference. If FWC is just to be a pawn to all the little local politicians and cave under their tiny local pressure, then maybe it is time for FWC to be abolished in favor of creation of an organization that has actual enforcement abilities and a staff in Tallahassee that actually has a spine!.” Click here to read full statement
Newborn hatchlings confused by light pollution. Disorientated tracks . I call them death tracks as hatchlings rarely turn toward the ocean once disorientated. Highland Beach, Fl 2010
This is what tracks to the ocean look like but rarely happens in Florida or anywhere these days. FWC keeps this fact a secret because only those of us who do the morning survey would know what we’re looking at. This makes it easy for the FWC to lie to the public without impunity.
Key West county bar lights disorientate sea turtle hatchlings July 2022
Crane Crest condos in Lauderdale by the Sea. Between 2010 – 2016 had reports sent in to FWC nearly every night about their lights. It’s not possible to estimate the tens of thousands of hatchlings this condo has killed over the years.
Florida coastline in 2012
Click here to watch a video of rescued hatchlings being released into the ocean
Without a rescue this Green sea turtle could have died since they are unable to ‘back up’ like other animals or retract their flippers.
Light pollution is a global problem
Fact VS fiction
I asked Christine Figgener, founder of COASTS, a community based project in Costa Rica, what should be done about light pollution “This is a good question. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is doing a pretty good job convincing people (house owners, hotel owners etc) to switch their lights over to sea turtle friendly lights. I truly believe that if the laws aren't enforced the only way to solve this is to make people care and have them act on their own according..” I told her that Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) was not doing anything of the sort. For years I and others from Sea Turtle Oversight Protection practically begged them (Karen Shudes and David Godfrey) to help in Broward county to no avail.
Their CEO Godfrey makes the claim “spent nearly $10 million over the last decade alone directly helping beachfront property owners in Florida retrofit their lights to the latest sea turtle friendly technology. We’ve retrofitted nearly 300 large, multi-family properties like condos, resorts, restaurants, and even single family homes. Everywhere we do this the disorientation rate in front of these properties drops to effectively zero.” This may sound impressive but there are millions of bright white lights so 300 does nothing.
The real issue is there cozy relationship to FWC that has failed to move the needle enforcing local/state/federal law. Furthermore lights can be seen by hatchlings for over a mile and adds to skyglow so one dark house among dozens brightly lit does nothing but allows them to make these claims. If you’re not on the beach at night, like I’ve been for years, you wouldn’t know how little this statement means. The light pollution in Broward and Dade county hasn’t much improved in the past decade and the same can be said for most of the state.
If they really wanted to help this is where they would focus. They do the bare minimum only for show for donations. These 3 counties have a death rate from light pollution ranging from 50 – 100% depending on weather and beach. Figgener was shocked to hear the truth.
After hearing how the FWC and most sea turtle groups DO NOT:
· Enforce any lighting laws
· Educate the public about light pollution
· Do anything about hot sand/coastal development
· Accurately report disorientations from lights
· Do not want or support night rescue of hatchlings
And how FWC:
· Destroyed the hatchlings rescue programs in Broward
· Refused to allow any other county to have their own program
· Has false/skewed data that does not reflect all the dead hatchlings from hot sand and light pollution
She said this:
“This is all horrible. Especially because FL praises itself as THE sea turtle capital of the world.....what I don't understand is, do they actually forbid to go and rescue baby turtles?” - Christine Figgener, PhD Marine Biologist
Florida is only a leader in sea turtle conservation in its own mind. The fact is Florida is the poster child for all the things to never do if you’re trying to save an endangered species. They get an F for failure.
The Florida light pollution / Dark Sky map is a mosaic from 2016 NASA/NOAA
SUOMI/NPP SATELLITE IMAGES
The so called sea turtle ‘experts’ are anointed from within the group of those working in the field. The nonprofits benefit the most financially when they have problems to point to for donation drives. The government agencies maintain their jobs by having problems to oversee. These two groups, seemingly at odds, actually work together to maintain the status quo they both need to survive. Their symbiotic relationship prevents any real solutions. They prop each other up and despite the rhetoric they say in public they are wholly dependent on each other, much like a parasite and its host. Once you see this, it all makes sense. Ignore the studies paid for by industry interests, the vague press releases, the glossy websites shouting how successful they are and only look at their actions and results. Truth plain and simple.
Excuses, lies or lack of action they’re not saving sea turtles
I reached out to over 20 people representing government agencies, nonprofits and universities, less than half bothered to respond. Their answers were eerily similar to each other. They vacillated between the ‘it’s not a crisis yet let’s wait another 10, 20 or 30 years before we do anything’ to the ‘it’s too complicated to fix’ drumbeat. Every time there is a big problem no one wants to deal with these tired excuses are rehashed for public consumption. Where have we heard this before? We know the wait and see policy is a ploy for the lazy, the corrupt and the ignorant to use as a defense against the inquiring public demanding action.
Here is Sea Turtle Conservancy president Godfrey hoping someone else will do what he gets a six figure salary for '"hopes others will be motivated by people like Jones (local activist not a big group) to persuade municipal officials to make their communities less harmful to sea turtles. While many officials are doing a good job" (sorry no, FWC and local officials do nothing which he’s well aware of) and notes sometimes “you have to convince your local officials that it’s the right thing to do and that it won’t be a major inconvenience to people in terms of cost, safety, and effort.” STC has failed to do that.
If they work with code officers it's not in the worst light pollution areas like South Florida. He adds: “It also doesn’t hurt to remind elected officials that sea turtles are federally protected. If their lack of control of lighting is killing sea turtles, then they could be sued under the US Endangered Species Act.” Isn’t that what donors give money to nonprofits for? Seems Godfrey forgot that part of his job
Laurie Hood is the Founder and President at Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport, Florida and the Florida State Director at Animal Wellness Action. This nonprofit is one of 3 organizations formed by Wayne Pacelle, Marty Irby and Scott Beckstead after leaving the HSUS. There has been a lot of deserved controversy about this group and these people about their true agenda, how/if they spend donations on real causes and ethics. This group has been noisy with claims of success but reality says otherwise. To read about how this group is not saving sea turtles or any other species in need in Florida click here
Defenders of Wildlife is another group gone bad using sea turtles and a host of other species to garner donations from unsuspecting people. They are not saving sea turtles or any other species in Florida. Click here for sobering facts
Sea Turtle Oversight Protection was officially formed as a nonprofit in 2010 when I was one of the original members. At the time the motto from Founder Richard Whitecloud was ‘we want to put ourselves out of business’ by fixing the light pollution problem. That never happened mostly due to lack of action by FWC, no supportive help from other nonprofits but also by S.T.O.P. itself. Along the way a kids camp was added and nightly hatching tours which was never part of the original mission. This helped the FWC is their attempt to destroy any rescue groups and gave them cause to take action. S.T.O.P. now has 3 instead of 5 permits and less volunteers, when we never had nearly enough to cover all the nests. This is part of the witches brew in the Florida sea turtles industry. It all goes together.
Nova Southern University (NOVA) does the morning survey of marking nests and excavating hatched ones in Broward county. They are supposed to do light pollution surveys and report disorientation to FWC but rarely if ever do. They are also complicit and have failed to follow all requirements of their permit. According to IRS filling their 2021 assets were worth $1.4 billion. They often claim lack of funding and staff as reasons why they can’t fulfill all permit requirements. They also never answer their sea turtle hotline number when people have called.
National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation got into legal trouble with the IRS with their boat donation program and had to start actually give away money they claimed they had been doing all along. In 2010 Gumbo Limbo new rehab center was a first recipient in November 2010 and I attended the ceremony. As reported in Sun-Sentinel
Their 2020 IRS tax form shows they have assets over $44 million and you can change a lot of light bulbs with that….but they haven’t. Beware if you donate to them. Here is their tax form
Audubon in Broward county had its own sea turtle volunteer program run by Doug Young. Why would a bird group get a permit to work with reptiles? For Young it was ego, and if you met him on the beach from 2012 – 2018 you would know that. His ‘qualifications’, he worked for the county and that’s it. FWC does zero oversight and gives permits to those willing to bend over for them and not question anything. Of the volunteers listed on his 2 permits if 5 came out and did any rescuing that was a lot. Mostly they were obstructionists causing so many problems I had to kick out two from my zone in Lauderdale by the Sea. In 2015 Young and his friend Stan made international news for causing a shooting with a homeless man. These are the people FWC prefers to ‘save’ an endangered species.
According to the US Fish & Wildlife (FWS) sea turtle expert Karen Frutchey out of Jacksonville, Florida, they’re working diligently with the state FWC on light pollution problems. Frutchey said “Lighting has been known to the FWS to be a threat to sea turtles and is listed as a high priority to be addressed in these recovery plans.” and yet little has been done in those years. This may sound like they’re doing something “FWS engages in Habitat Conservation Plans, to help counties accomplish objectives and conserve wildlife as well (Lighting is a component of these too). Those HCPs that affect turtles are in Volusia County, Indian River County and Walton County.” Those are not the main nesting counties; Dade, Broward, Palm Beach on the east coast and Hillsborough, Sarasota and Lee counties on the west coast are but they’re not mentioned.
“Because we have a numerically small workforce at FWS, we have a Endangered Species Act Section 6 agreement with the State of Florida:” They have a $2,8 billion dollar budget and their own ‘nonprofit’ with $392 million in assets so what was that about a small staff? You can read more about that here
“Lighting concerns are documented everyday during the hatching season in Florida by the Florida permitholders” Frutchey claims and yes I know I’ve sent in hundreds of forms myself but their state partner has refused to do anything. She goes on to say “The situation with lighting is a challenging dynamic threat to sea turtles that FWS is keenly aware of and is working with partners constantly during and even outside the nesting and hatching season.“ None of this is where the most dense nesting occurs. This sounds like the childhood fairytale about the emperor who had no clothes but all the minions around him claimed he did to keep the status quo.
The international community is supposedly made up of the best minds in science. None are talking about this simple feasible solution. In 2021 I reached out to the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group about the light pollution crisis in Florida. None of them ever replied back. In 2022 I reached out again asking about light pollution and hot sand and they gave my the standard reply they generate with excuses and lies about waiting because it isn’t a crisis yet in their minds. Here are the leaders of this group, their bio might make them look proactive but waiting till the last minute is NOT HOW YOU SAVE A SPECIES. Roderic Mast (Oceanic Society) is the Chair of this group, has never responded to emails or calls
“nonprofits are not suppose to be about making a profit from your donations. They’re suppose to use those funds for the causes they advertise helping. A quick check of their finances shows the truth.”
Indoor temperature controlled hatcheries is the best answer to light pollution and hot sand. The cooler temperature would start producing the much need males. Light pollution would no longer cause the death of millions of hatchlings since they would be hatching inside and released at night under supervision. As for coastal development, only an immediate end to development would do that. Every morning freshly laid nests would be gently dug up by trained staff and placed in buckets where they would stay until hatching. Aside from the initial relocation very little maintenance is required.
All this sounds complicated but can be done, if there is political will. You see the money is there and the state has a population of 20 million and can certainly find enough people in a country of 300 million. A room of 20 x 20 can hold several rows of buckets perhaps equaling a hundred bucket nests. Once hatched the hatchlings would be released on the beach at night. I’ve been trained to relocate nests so I know anyone can be trained. So many people would welcome the opportunity to actually do something beneficial. NOVA University in Broward county, as policy, relocated about 80% of nests for years simply to avoid enforcing the lighting laws, that’s about 3000 nests annually. We (S.T.O..P) got them to stop relocating hoping they would help enforce the laws, that never happened. Ask yourself why all these ‘sea turtle experts’ fight the only thing that would save the species? There’s always more to the story….
This 5 gallon bucket from Lowe’s can hold an entire sea turtle nest
A Loggerhead false crawl from an adult female who decided not to nest. The FWC would have you believe this is common, no it’s not suppose to be common it’s a clear indication the habitat is not healthy for a sustainable population. Female sea turtles only come out of the ocean with a strong drive to dig a chamber and drop their eggs. Adults can become confused by light pollution just like hatchlings. There are many factors that cause false crawls other than light pollution like human activity, too high embankment for them to crawl over. In Florida the rate of false crawls VS nests was often higher than 50% for false crawls. That means more turtles decided not to nest…..that is not normal.
Click here for some interviews starting in 2013 sounding the alarm about light pollution
Don’t believe what you hear unless you fact check it
How do I know all the lies FWC tells and all the phony claims the non-profits make? I spent 11 years in the field working with and rescuing sea turtles. I started in May 2008 in Highland Beach doing the morning survey MTP #100 till I damaged my shoulders and gave it up at the end of 2016. In 2009 I started with night rescue and newly formed non-profit Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (S.T.O.P.) MTP #192 & #193 till end of 2015.
Having had enough of the in-fighting in S.T.O.P. my team and I decided we needed a change. We decided to form our own rescue group but knew Meghan Koperski wouldn’t give out a permit. I went looking for a permit holder who could add us so we could continue doing the night rescue. That was MTP #66. Our team from zone 6 became Sea Turtle Awareness Rescue Stranding (S.T.A.R.S.) in 2016 until that group fell apart at the end of 2018 season. Much of the problems stemmed from FWC refusal to do what they’re paid to do and lack of backbone and integrity on the part of the permit holders. All of that will be exposed at a later date.
I was also appointed to the FWC Coastal Wildlife Conservation Initiative committee for the Palm Beach chapter along with Dr. Kirt Rusenko. This was another government for show group that did little at meetings other than gossip and drink stale coffee. The chapter was disbanded by FWC after a year.
Unlike most of those on the permits I went out nearly every day and night for the entire season for 11 years. I’ve seen it all. I traveled all over the state attending meetings, speaking at hearings, giving interviews and went to several Permit Holder meetings. I personally sent in hundreds maybe more forms every night about disorientated hatchlings and rescued maybe 8000 or so. That’s how I know all of this and so much more….
All the people mentioned, and so many others, have blood on their hands. They have all known for years about the unsustainable death rate from light pollution. All they do is give excuses and claim lack of funds. The laws are never enforced and never will be only the ignorant would claim that someday enforcement will happen. I would sooner believe in the Wizard of Oz.
Anyone can save a disorientated sea turtle you do not need permission. As you see the officials do nothing to help and everything to hurt this species. If YOU see a wondering hatchling it’s up to you to save him, because they won’t.
In closing it’s obvious the whole sea turtle industry spews the same talking points about enforcing laws, which has/will never happen. None of these experts has ever been on the beach late at night rescuing disorientated hatchlings so their laziness and ignorance is glaring. Why are so many denying the facts and who are they really working for because it sure doesn’t seem like the sea turtles does it?
If you would like to ask why these people get paid to do nothing see below
FWC, Robbin Trindell / admin for state sea turtle program Robbin.Trindell@myfwc.com 850.922.4330
IUCN Turtle Sp. Group general email email@example.com
Click here for part 2