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St. Pete Beach may bolster turtle nest vigil

An ordinance would help a man's 30-year watch by regulating coastal lighting.

By NICK JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published August 14, 2007


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Sea turtles have been making their way onto the shores of St. Pete Beach and laying their eggs under the watchful eyes of one man for about 30 years now.

For as long as many can remember, Bruno Faulkenstein, also known for running the Hurricane Restaurant, has overseen the safe return of the hatchlings to the sea.

He does so with the cooperation of business owners and residents on the beach, whose lights could potentially confuse the hatchlings as they try to make it back into the gulf waters.

Now the city is on the verge of passing an ordinance to make any new buildings on the beach comply with codes that would prohibit lighting that might disorient the turtles.

The ordinance, which comes before the commission for a final reading today, essentially would keep lights from being visible from the beach, or from shining on the area beyond the dunes, and would prevent bonfires or driving directly on the beach.

Existing lighting would have to be brought into compliance by next January, when the city would begin officially enforcing what has previously been done with a handshake.

"This isn't something I have done. This is a cooperation between a whole lot of people who live and own property on the beach," Faulkenstein said. "I have 100 percent cooperation from both businesses and residents."

Most every morning before sunrise, Faulkenstein drives his stretch of beach in what looks like an eight-wheeled golf cart. It's a vehicle he bought especially for this purpose after too many Jeeps and SUVs gave in to the punishment of the salty air and sand.

He's glad to know that his efforts will have some official backing, in the event that he is unable to continue being spokesman for the animals. "Lets face it, I'm 60 years old. I don't know if I can do this for another 30 years," he said.

His patrols begin just before nesting season starts in May and continue until just after it ends in November. This year has been his second-slowest ever, with only three nests on St. Pete Beach.

Faulkenstein is licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conduct nesting surveys, interact with the protected turtles, and cage or move their nests to protect them.

He has one of only five permits in Pinellas County, most of which are held by individuals who work or volunteer for an organization like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, who are contracted by the county to cover the beaches from north Clearwater to Pass-a-Grille.

St. Pete Beach is one of the few remaining municipalities without an ordinance.

The state has a model ordinance that it recommends cities adopt but no laws pertaining to coastal lighting. The county doesn't have any jurisdiction either, instead relying on the cooperation of the cities.

Tammy Langer, the director of sea turtle nesting and rehabilitation at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, expects most of the remaining cities to have an ordinance in place by next year. "Basically all the cities in Pinellas County are going to have one except Clearwater," she said.

St. Pete Beach already has a man on the job, and he shows no sign of stopping.

"Good Lord willing, I'll be doing it until I'm 90," Faulkenstein said.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

[Last modified August 14, 2007, 07:25:18]


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