TRUST FOR ENVIRONMENT EDUCATION, CONSERVATION & COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Year of the Turtle
Sea turtles are valuable to people both ecologically, as they play a very important role in the coastal bio-diversity and for the sense of wonder they awaken in us.
In most cases, people are simply unaware rather than uncaring. One needs to understand the importance of evolution and the millions of years that the turtles have survived. They could well be called the Ambassadors of the Ocean.
The turtle swims thousands of kilometers across the ocean between its nesting years and is therefore a good indicator of the health and wealth of the ocean. Its return to its nesting grounds time and time again in sufficient numbers will speak for itself.
The narrow strips of sand high up on the beach, where people live, recreate and conduct commerce, is where the turtles come to nest. Although sea turtles spend very little time of their lives on the beaches, preserving their nesting sites on the beach is critical to their survival. They make no disturbance on the beach but rather awaken a sense of wonder in the human mind. The people along the coast can cause profound environmental changes and habitat alteration. The most distinctive and damaging type of habitat alteration that affects sea turtles at the nesting beach is light pollution-the introduction of artificial lighting.
Artificial lighting can have profound effects on turtle survival. Critical turtle behaviors affected by light pollution include the selection of nesting beaches by adult turtles and identifying the sea for the adults and hatchlings which are highly light sensitive. All these have been proved by Turtle biologists with evidence.
Both circumstantial observations and experimental evidence show that artificial lighting on beaches tends to deter sea turtles from emerging from the sea to nest. Because of this, effects from artificial lighting are likely to be revealed by a ratio of nests to false crawl (tracks showing abandoned nesting attempts on the beach).This happened recently at Injambakkam on 27th December 2005.
Although there is a tendency for turtles to prefer dark beaches, many do nest on lighted shores, but in doing so, the lives of their hatchlings are jeopardized. On naturally lit beaches, hatchlings emerging from nests show an immediate and well-directed orientation toward the water. This robust sea-finding behavior is innate and is guided by light cues that include brightness, shape, and in some species, color. On artificially lighted beaches, hatchlings become misdirected by light sources, leaving them unable to find the water and likely to incur high mortality from dehydration and predators. Hatchlings become misdirected because of their tendency to move in the brightest direction, conditions that are commonly created by artificial light sources.
To protect sea turtles, light sources can simply be turned off or they can be minimized in number and wattage, repositioned behind structures, shielded, redirected, lowered, or recessed so that their light does not reach the beach. Interior lighting can be reduced by moving lamps away from windows, drawing blinds after dark and tinting windows.
To protect sea turtles, artificial lighting need not be prohibited if it can be properly managed. Light is properly managed if it cannot be seen from the beach.
Making the public aware of light-pollution problems on sea turtle nesting beaches is a fundamental step towards darkening beaches for sea turtles. Many of those responsible for errant lighting are unaware of its detrimental effects and are generally willing to correct the problem voluntarily once they become aware.
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