Sea Turtle Oversight Protection says Fort Lauderdale is violating its own protective ordinance -- and harming turtles with street lights
By Jeff Burnside and Janie Campbell | Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011
A sea turtle rescue group is planning to protest street lights owned by the city of Fort Lauderdale that appear to violate the city's own protective ordinance.
Members of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection claim streetlamps on A1A are illegally visible from the beach, leading disoriented hatchlings away from the ocean and further harming endangered species.
After millions of years using the moon to guide them from sandy nests to the sea, baby turtles instinctively follow light once born. Bright, man-made lights have caused many turtles to die, a critical issue over which the city of Fort Lauderdale passed the lighting ordinance and issues citations.
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"They need to set the example," says STOP's Richard Whitecloud. "They need to say 'we're doing it so everyone else has to do it too.' I mean, it's that simple."
STOP's 125 volunteers comb the beaches day and night, and say they have observed hundreds of turtles heading toward the lights on A1A instead of the Atlantic Ocean.
An e-mail circulated among city leaders on July 15 defined "major problems....along A1A.," and STOP members say they warned Fort Lauderdale city manager Lee Feldman about the lights in a meeting on July 26.
But the city has responded to the controversy by saying Fort Lauderdale has made great strides in reducing lighting problems, even installing light shields they say have been approved by state officials.
"The City of Fort Lauderdale cares a great deal about this issue, and it's a complicated issue," said spokesperson Chaz Adams. "We're trying to establish and balance, between the safety and protection of the turtles and the safety and protection of our residents and tourists.
"All of those light poles are retrofitted with canvas hoods that have been approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission for turtle season."
But clearly the lights are still visible on the side facing the beach -- and STOP volunteers are so irate that more than 100 of them plan to picket at Tuesday's Fort Lauderdale City Commission meeting.
"We were very specific about our concerns because we're speaking from experience," said Whitecloud. "We're out here on the beach every night recovering hatchlings that are disoriented to the artificial light sources, in particular the city lights...it's heartbreaking."