The instinct of sea turtle hatchlings to wander toward the brightest horizon has ensured the survival of the species for millions of years.
Now this evolutionary advantage has become one of its biggest weaknesses.
In some areas, the artificial lights of beachfront developments are brighter than the glow of the night sky shimmering on the ocean.
For hatchlings, drawn toward the light like a moth to a flame, that can mean a premature death, before they have reached their natural habitat.
In Grand Cayman last year, the Department of Environment documented 45 incidents where nests of up to 100 hatchlings were disoriented by artificial lighting.
“In these incidents, baby sea turtles were confused by lights near the beach and crawled away from the ocean and toward the lights on land, where many were killed by vehicles, dehydration, or predators,” said Janice Blumenthal, research officer with the department.
For another 33 nests, DoE staff or volunteers intervened as the nests hatched in an attempt to prevent the hatchlings from going in the wrong direction.
Now the department is stepping up its efforts to persuade developers to use “turtle-friendly” lighting.
Two free workshops for architects and electricians are planned on Monday and Tuesday next week to provide training on turtle-friendly lighting design and installation.
Ms. Blumenthal urged tradesmen to attend the seminar, and for more condo owners and property developers to adapt their lighting.
She said, “Artificial lighting is one of the most severe threats to our sea turtle population.
“If the hatchlings born each year do not survive, our turtle nesting populations will collapse. Many hatchling turtles are killed by artificial lighting and the problem is growing.”
Turtle-friendly lighting uses specific design and positioning of light fixtures, as well as bulbs with an amber wavelength.
The color is intended to be appealing to property owners and residents, as it resembles candlelight, and is much less likely to lead baby turtles away from the sea.
The workshops will be led by Florida-based, turtle-friendly lighting experts, who have been involved in such lighting projects for over 12 years and have conducted more than 400 retrofits of beachfront properties, Ms. Blumenthal said.
“We hope this training will make turtle-friendly lighting more readily available to Cayman’s beachfront property owners, decreasing the numbers of sea turtle misorientations in future,” she added.
Architectural and electrical businesses have been asked to reply to [email protected] as soon as possible to sign up for an appropriate session.