By STEPHEN BAUMANN ENGLEWOOD EDITOR, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.
ENGLEWOOD — Sea turtle tag owners take note: Your license plate money has returned home.
A “photo op” was held Tuesday morning at Englewood Beach to tout new sea turtle-friendly lighting along Beach Road.
Surveying the new lights were Charlotte County Commissioner Tom Moore, Missy Christie of the county Natural Resources Division and Dawn Harrison of the county Public Works Division.
The lighting project runs along the sidewalk at Englewood Beach, running the length of the public park and parking area with 42 lowpressure, sodium streetlights.
The bulk of the project — 34 Centennial C light fixtures — was funded through Manasota Key and Sandpiper Key MSTU assessments. The other eight lights were paid for with a $19,760 grant from the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, a nonprofit organization that administers money collected through the state’s sea turtle license plate program.
The old Beach Road lights were taller and brighter. Shields were put up years ago to lessen their impact on sea turtles.
During sea turtle season — May 1 to Oct. 31 — mature turtles that come to shore and hatchlings that emerge from nests can become disoriented by bright lights along the beach. They are drawn to bright light, and may wander further inland instead of crawling back into the Gulf, as they should.
Christie, who runs the county’s turtle protection program, said the new shorter, low-sodium lights cause the least amount of harm.
One problem with this project, she said, was balancing the need to illuminate the road adequately for motorists while casting the least amount of light Gulfward. These lights met the two criteria, she added.
Christie also lauded the businesses along Beach Road that have adapted their lights to meet county regulations designed to protect sea turtle habitat.
The Lock & Key Restaurant does not use its fluorescent sign during turtle season, and installed lights on the corner of the building that point down.
The Circle K convenience store doesn’t use an illuminated roadside sign and has an apron that shields the outside lights.
And the nearby Gulf View Grill uses curtains to shield lights during turtle season. “They’ve all done an incredible job,” Christie said.
And they’d better.
The county can impose a $250-a-day fine on offenders.
“We’re out here at night doing surveys and inspections,” Christie said.
“Luckily, we haven’t had to do any enforcement. These people have been great.” Wilma Katz of the Coastal Wildlife Club said Tuesday the group is pleased with the new lighting near the beach. And, she added, the club was looking forward to a time when the county would be able to replace all current streetlights on the Charlotte County portion of Manasota Key with turtle-friendly lights.