FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — A $7.76 million grant will go to Lee County to replace the lighting on Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach, which was damaged in Hurricane Ian. While lighting is always important for vehicles and pedestrian traffic, the type of lights matters, especially for our sea turtles.
Sea turtles returned to southwest Florida this past May and continued to make a record number of nests throughout the summer. With an increase in nests also came an increase in turtle hatchling disorientation.
“We think it is actually because Hurricane Ian wiped out a lot of vegetation and beachfront housing,” said Savannah Weber, a Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Sea Turtle biologist.
With less vegetation and infrastructure along the coastline, more artificial light is reaching the beaches at night.
“That actually allowed a lot of the inland lighting to be visible from the beach,” said Weber.
That additional lighting can mean life or death for our sea turtles, especially the hatchlings.
“We see a lot of tracks go up into the dune and we try to follow them but ultimately lose them, so who knows where those hatchlings even ended up, but they didn’t go into the water,” said Weber.
Weber says that white light mimics moonlight reflecting on the top of the water that turtles use for navigation.
“The turtles think that is where the ocean is,” said Weber. “So, they will actually go up on to the beach and a lot of times can get stuck in people’s backyards and run over by cars on roads, especially with streetlights.”
That’s where the grant from the state comes into the play. The lighting along Estero Boulevard will be replaced with turtle friendly elements to hopefully reduce the risk of turtle disorientation and even false crawls. It can happen when mother turtles go up on the beach and fail to lay eggs.
“A lot of these lighting initiatives are doing is keeping the lights low and shielded, so that the light is just facing downward, instead of emitting all out,” said Weber.
While the grant has been announced, Lee County has yet to receive the funds from the state. When that happens, the county will transfer those funds to the town of Fort Myers Beach to handle the contractor and installation process.