Many sea turtle hatchlings on Fort Myers Beach aren’t making it to the water due to ‘disorientation’

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. – There’s an alarming number of sea turtle hatchlings headed every which way but towards the ocean.

On Fort Myers Beach, roughly 20% of all the nests that have hatched this turtle season have been impacted by what’s known as “disorientation”.

“It means that the turtles, the hatchlings, came out of the nest and there was an artificial light that attracted them in a different way then the water,” explained Cindy Jonhnson, a volunteer with Turtle Time, the conservation organization that oversees the island’s turtle nesting season.

One of those impacted nests hatched outside of the Pink Shell Resort on August 5. According to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Turtle Disorientation report, the hatchlings were attracted to the bright lights of the resort instead of the water.

“They’re looking for the light of the horizon shining on the Gulf,” Johnson said. “They’ll just keep wandering and looking for the water and they usually end up digging from dehydration.”

Only 10 of the turtles that hatched from that nest made it to the Gulf of Mexico. The others went every which way but the right way.

“It’s devastating to all of us that the turtles didn’t get to the water,” said Bill Waichilis, General Manager of Pink Shell Resort. “I mean it’s horrible.”

One of the hatchlings was found the next morning swimming in the hotel’s pool. Others were found in parking lots, on Estero Boulevard and on other parts of the beach.

“One was actually found a whole night and day later,” Johnson said. “So it was wandering around that whole time.”

So far on Fort Myers Beach, seven nests that have hatched were disoriented, according to Turtle Time.

That might not sound like a lot, but in reality it accounts for 20% of hatched nests. There’s 108 nests on the island this turtle season.

“If there were no artificial lights, they would go to the water,” Johnson said.

That’s in a perfect world, and Fort Myers Beach is far from perfect. So far this turtle season, the town has dished out 223 turtle violations. That’s more than two violations for every nest on the island. Many of the violations are for bright lights on the beach.

That’s why the Pink Shell Resort is investing $400,000 in turtle conservation as part of a massive $7.4 million renovation beginning August 15.

Changes to help turtles include tinting every piece of ocean-facing glass with a 15% film. They’re also changing all of the lights to turtle-safe bulbs.

“We’ll be the first completely turtle complaint resort in Southwest Florida come February,” said Waichulis.

Additionally, they utilize a variety of methods to reach guests who might not be familiar with the severity of turtle season.

“We have many guests that are not from Florida that just don’t understand how that affects the turtles when they’re hatching,” Waichulis said. “Our guests get a voicemail when they check in about closing the drapes.” “We have a texting system that we text them about closing the drapes.”

The problem isn’t just on Fort Myers Beach. Nearby on the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, about 10% of their hatched nests have been disoriented too. Across Lee County, 43 disorentiation reports have been investigated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Johnson said.

It’s not hard work. All you have to do is flip off the lights. It’ll save you a couple of bucks and it’ll save little turtle lives.

For more information on sea turtle disorientation, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission website.

Lowell Bowen

From the time he was 8 years old Lowell knew he wanted to be on TV. Well, as people say one thing leads to another, that's how Lowell started his career in the news industry. Lowell has been part of The South Florida Daily since the very beginning.

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