JUPITER — The annual sea turtle-nesting season is underway.
Leatherback, green and loggerhead turtles will be lumbering ashore for the next eight months. Keeping the lights out, along with release devices on commercial fishing nets and more conservation efforts, are boosting nesting numbers, said Bill Miller, refuge manager of the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, located between Beach Road and St. Lucie Inlet.
"Turning out the lights is very important in Palm Beach County, where more buildings are along the beach. Our beach is more rural," Miller said.
Lights shining on the beach can deter female turtles from nesting. The lights can also disorient hatchlings into walking toward A1A, where they can be gulped by predators or crushed by passing vehicles.
Residential and commercial lighting must face down or be shielded so it doesn't shine on the beach. Two property owners have been fined and were required to change their outdoor lighting since the Paqlm Beach County's Sea Turtle Protection Ordinance passed in 1987.
A $3,600 fine was levied against the Ocean Trail Condominium in Jupiter in 1997. The Jupiter Reef Club was fined in 2005. The amount was not available on county records.
Nests for leatherback and green turtles have stayed steady or increased in the past several years in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Loggerheads, which had a sharp decline between 1998-2005, have since been slowly increasing.
Palm Beach County municipalities which must meet the lighting requirements include Tequesta, Jupiter Inlet Colony, Jupiter, North Palm Beach, Riviera Beach, Singer Island, Palm Beach Shores, Lake Worth, Lantana, Manalapan, and Boynton Beach.
Property owners with the coastal areas that must comply are scheduled to receive notices warning them that turtle season is beginning, said Paul Davis, county environmental manager.
Other communities, such as Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Ocean Ridge, have their own lighting ordinances.
Municipalities have different ways to help drivers cope with darker streets.
Vero Beach several years ago installed 16-foot-long lighted strips on the South Beach boardwalk. Boca Raton installed "cat's eyes," saucer-sized illuminated discs that look like airport runway lights in the center of A1A south of Highland Beach. Countywide, many streetlights are shielded so the light faces straight down. Juno Beach in 2008 installed about 90 waist-high bollards with a red-filtered light on the east side of A1A north of Donald Ross Road.
Fewer hatchlings head away from the ocean since the bollards were built, said Loggerhead Marinelife Center Biologist Kelly Martin.
How does she know?
"We count the tracks in the sand," Martin said.
To view the lighting ordinance and see if your property is in the designated areas, go to pbcgov.com/erm/lighting
YouReporter Laurie took a photo of a turtle used in this report