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Sea Turtle-Friendly Equals “Ka-Ching”

August 7, 2008

Jacksonville, FL – Bay County is the latest to look at laws that would require buildings along the beach to be "sea turtle-friendly." By adjusting their beachfront lighting so it's not easily noticed by the turtles, newly-hatched sea turtle babies don't head off in the wrong direction when they dig out of their nests, a problem that can be fatal.

Being sea turtle-friendly also has turned out to be good for the hotel business, according to Jeff Truhlar, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott Oceanside. He says installing lights that the turtles can't see has paid off financially.

"There's a lot of interest; we particularly see a lot of interest in families. And people are asking about it, not realizing how the sea turtles migrate and what distracts them."

Bay County's proposed law has more exemptions than similar laws in other counties, which Truhlar believes could undermine the good stewardship of other beachfront hotels, as well as other county governments. Backers of the exemptions point out that using dimmer, turtle-friendly lighting could be detrimental to public safety, and that people should have priority over sea turtles.

But marine scientist David Godfrey, of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, explains that county ordinances must be specific and strong, in order to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act - and most are. He says hatchlings are expected any day now, and the wrong kind of light along the beach becomes a life-or-death situation for the turtles.

"It doesn't take much light to cause a nest of 100 adorable little sea turtle hatchlings to go in exactly the wrong direction, where they often die."

The Bay County Tourist Development Council has adopted the ordinance in draft form; it will now be considered by the Bay County Board of Commissioners.

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - FL