Characterizing the lighting environment and hatchling orientation index on Brevard South Beaches
About the project: Stella Maris Environmental Research is a 501(c)(3) not for-profit organization based in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge (ACNWR). The ACNWR is arguably the densest nesting ground for Loggerhead sea turtles in the world, the most significant nesting grounds for green sea turtles in North America and a minor nesting area for vulnerable Leatherback sea turtles. The South Brevard beaches and the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge (ACNWR) continue to be developed by humans along side record numbers of green turtle nests being observed, where many citizens are unaware of effects of lighting or ordinances. Previous studies determined that increased development has allowed for increased light intensity on coastlines which impact marine turtles. (Weishampel 2015). To protect sea turtles, including hatchlings, beach lighting needs adequate attention and management (Witherington et al. 1996). It is critical to determine hatchling orientation and lighting characterization of the beach habitat to avoid increased disorientation, beach mortality, and decreased survivorship resulting from artificial lighting. Our research study on the light environment in the ACNWR provides insight into lighting effects thwarting hatchlings during the most critical journey from emergence to the sea. Determining the “light scape” by measuring light intensity at night on nesting beaches helps regulators determine compliance to Brevard County lighting ordinances and decreases dangers to marine turtles. We are accepting support to supplement our grant for a “Temporal Analysis of Hatchling Orientation” on Brevard County beaches from 1993, 1994 to recent years, which also includes determination of the light environment during nesting hours from Patrick Air Force base to Sebastian Inlet. Our work represents artificial light levels at night on integral sea turtle nesting beaches as well as the potential impacts of artificial lighting affecting future sea turtle population success. The study site collects data that aligns with historical studies performed by UCF Marine Turtle Research Group with Blair Witherington (FWC/ FWRI) and work performed by Dr. Tomo Hirama (FWC/FWRI). This project has quantified artificial lighting levels at night, hatchling orientation index (HOI) and determine the relationship. In addition, educational seminars are offered monthly to hotels, motels, and multi-unit rental properties in the South Beaches of Brevard, increasing public awareness of lighting as a pollution source and the negative effects on hatchlings.
Stella Maris Environmental Research has received a 2021 grant from the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program, which is funded by the sales of the sea turtle specialty license plate.
This grant is to support "Characterizing the lighting environment and hatchling orientation index on Brevard South Beaches", and more recently, "Expanding sea turtle conservation, lighting effects of hatchling orientation". which benefits Florida sea turtles. We were chosen for the award through a competitive application process that is open to coastal county governments, educational institutions and Florida-based nonprofit groups striving to improve the livelihood of sea turtles and conserve Florida habitats. To learn more about the Sea Turtle Grants Program and the "Helping Sea Turtles Survive" specialty license plate, please visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.