Broward lights disorient hundreds of turtles

Published October 3, 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE - Reports of disoriented sea turtle hatchlings along Broward County beaches have spiked this year after state and federal officials discouraged relocating their nests, experts said.

Thousands of green, loggerhead and leatherback turtles lay their eggs each year on Broward beaches. The county had routinely relocated nests dug in brightly lit beaches to darker areas to protect the hatchlings, which instinctively crawl toward light upon leaving the nest.

But this year, state and federal officials emphasized reducing artificial light from hotels, condos, restaurants and streetlights instead of relocating the nests. They said moving the nests disrupted the little-understood dynamics of the natural nests and did nothing to help the turtles' survival.

Broward County officials have so far recorded nearly 400 reports of disoriented hatchlings this year, up from 134 in 2005.

"I've been pulling turtles out of storm drains all summer, or picking them off the road," said Karen Schanzle, a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University working in the county's sea turtle conservation program.

Lou Fisher, a marine biologist for the county, said some beaches remain too bright for sea turtles, and the nests should have been moved.

"I don't like the idea of losing nests in an area where I know they're going to disorient, and that's what we're doing now. They're not looking at Broward County and Dade County as special circumstances," he said.

But Robbin Trindell, biological administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said most hatchlings from such nests went the wrong way anyway. "We just didn't see any benefits of the nests being moved."