FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – A group of environmental activists is calling on code enforcement officials in the city of Fort Lauderdale to step up action against businesses and homeowners that violate the city’s artificial lighting policy and cause harm to sea turtle hatchlings.
Richard Whitecloud is the founder of the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, or STOP. He and a group of volunteers patrol Broward County’s beaches each night, watching over nests, rescuing disoriented hatchlings and speaking to beachgoers and tourists about protecting the endangered turtles.
“The nesting habitat is suffering from our impact,” Whitecloud said. “We have to do something.”
Whitecloud says the artificial lighting from nearby businesses is the biggest problem facing hatchlings. The artificial lights can disorient them, causing them to head towards the light and away from the ocean. The city of Fort Lauderdale has a policy that states, “no artificial light shall illuminate or be visible from any area of the beach at nighttime.”
City officials say they have stepped up enforcement recently. They point to 172 open cases, 33 of which resulted in notices of violations being given to businesses and homeowners. Three of those cases are expected to be heard by a Special Magistrate.
One of the three is Silver Seas Beach Club. The resort was cited for having an illuminated sign and flood lights on at night. The general manager of the business says they fixed the problems but code enforcement officials have not yet cleared them.
Code Enforcement Manager Michael Maloney said more violations are forthcoming for businesses and homeowners on the beach.
“There is a push for more action to be done and more reduction in lighting,” Maloney said. “I think we’re making progress. It just maybe isn’t as fast as some people would like us to.”
The city also plans to replace all of its’ light poles along the east side of A1A with lights that cast light onto the road but not onto the beach.
On STOP’s website, Whitecloud has posted video of him re-orienting hatchlings away from the lights of Sunrise Boulevard and A1A and rescuing a nesting female trapped by two beach chairs, a kayak and a cabana cover.
He said people need to do their part to save this endangered species.
“We have a serious problem with people approaching the nesting females and chasing them off the beach,” Whitecloud said.
Whitecloud said another issue is the lack of vegetation along parts of A1A.
“Sunrise and A1A used to have dune vegetation so people could see the ocean coming down Sunrise Boulevard,” Whitecloud said. “What that did is it opened up clear access for any type of disorientation event to go right into the road. There is no buffer there.”
Maloney, the Code Enforcement Manager, said the city is communicating with STOP to protect sea turtle nest and hatchlings. Maloney called the effort “a big priority.”