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How Artificial City Lights Are Killing Baby Sea Turtles

South Florida is at the height of sea turtle nesting season, the time of year when thousands of turtle hatchlings burst out of their nests and instinctively use moonlight to guide them out to the ocean.

Although conservationists have made progress in dimming the lights along the beach, they're still running up against a form of light pollution that's hard to control.

It’s called skyglow – the hazy illumination above the horizon caused mostly by misdirected, artificial light seeping into the atmosphere.  The brightening of the night sky is often deadly to sea turtle hatchlings, since it disorients them away from the moon.  Turtle hatchlings, confused by artificial light, are often killed on roadways or strand themselves on the beach where they're picked off by predators. 

Most of Broward's coastal communities have regulations in place requiring businesses and condos to install turtle-friendly lighting. 

But Staci-Lee Sherwood, a volunteer for the non-profit Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, says there’s little conservationists can do about skyglow.

“Any business that has a light on, all the street lights, all your vehicle lights, your cell phone, my flashlight, all the indoor lights – it all accumulates into the atmosphere,” says Sherwood.

Last year, Sea Turtle Oversight Protection volunteers documented about 20,000 sea turtle hatchlings led away from the ocean by disorienting city lights.

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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