Not Just for Sea Turtles

by Nov 9, 2023Animals, South Brunswick

Sea-turtle-friendly lighting not only saves baby sea turtles, but also casts a soothing glow that humans love too.

Dozens of baby sea turtles the size of Oreo cookies scramble from their subterranean broken eggs and rush to the surface eyeing the phosphorescent ocean. Their goal is a long swim to seaweed grounds, where they can eat, hide from predators, grow strong and hopefully live a long time.

But too frequently the baby sea turtles mistake the electric lights of beach homes and businesses behind their nests for the shimmering surf. They head in the wrong direction, becoming instant prey for sea birds, foxes and ghost crabs.

Sea turtle patrols, including the one at Ocean Isle Beach, have been encouraging oceanfront property owners to replace traditional light fixtures with less brilliant alternatives and soft amber glow bulbs. The Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization (OIBSTPO) now provides sea-turtle safe fixtures and bulbs free of charge from a grant it has obtained. The group is having some success and learning something more along the way: People like the lighting alternatives, not just for the sea turtles – but for their own quality of life.

Soft Lights Coastal NC

The first large organization to adopt complete outdoor sea turtle lighting on Ocean Isle Beach is The Winds Hotel on E. First Street. The Winds is a private hotel, owned by R&L Carriers. R&L rewards its truck drivers and other employees with a free vacation annually, at three different locations, including one at Daytona Beach, Florida.

The Winds General Manager Kathy McLaurin says her corporate office had been considering replacing the local hotel’s lighting, and their sister hotel in Daytona Beach was required by ordinance to use sea-turtle-safe lighting.

The company made a business decision to do the same in Ocean Isle Beach, anticipating that a similar ordinance might go into effect in the county or state in the future. The company paid the entire cost, negating the need for OIBSTPO to incur the expense.

McLaurin says there was some concern there would not be enough light for the guests to move about safely on the hotel grounds. But she countered that thought by saying guests were constantly unscrewing the light bulbs on their room porches at night because they were so bright. Suddenly, guests are commenting how nice the ambience of the grounds is.

Joe Rugani and his wife visited from Ohio, and Joe chats about it in the hotel lobby.

Kathy McLaurin GM Winds Hotel

“I like it especially on my balcony at night,” he says. “It’s a low light. Not overly bright. Another thing is the lights are distinctive. When we’re walking on the beach at night, we can easily spot the hotel, or we might become lost and not know where it is.”

Rugani did not know about the lights’ original intention of saving endangered or threatened sea turtles. He was surprised and delighted.

It is a similar story for the Kalemi family of Boston, Massachusetts. Florenca Kalemi says, “It’s kind of a red light. Not strong. And it’s all very calm and soothing.”

She says she couldn’t wait to see the entire campus aglow in that warm light at night. She notes that it gave the hotel grounds and room porches a sense of romance and a feeling of happiness. Neither she nor members of her family had any idea of the connection to baby sea turtles, either.

“That’s so cool,” she says. “I wish I could be here to see them being born.”

One of the front desk clerks says the lights are so impressive, “We probably should have put them in years ago.”

Aside from The Winds, OIBSTPO has provided fixtures and lights for five more single-family homes and one six-unit condominium complex. After showing the photos of The Winds’ new arrangement to Brunswick Electric, OIBSTPO Coordinator Deb Allen says the company decided to swap out some bright white oceanfront streetlights as well. The electric company had previously agreed to turn off individual streetlights during the emergence stage of nearby nests.

OIBSTPO has the support of the town’s board of commissioners, who last winter amended the town’s public lighting regulations. Now, all new oceanfront construction must meet sea-turtle-safety requirements. Although the changes are for new buildings only, Mayor Debbie Smith says the town strongly encourages all property owners along the shoreline to consider making the changes.

Soft Lights Turtle Protection Coast

Allen says it is her hope that existing property owners will also see the value of saving sea turtles by installing sea-turtle-safe lighting. And now she is also touting the comments of the visitors at The Winds.

“This is not only helping save an entire species on the planet, but you are probably going to love the look of it in your own life, as well,” she says.

After The Winds installed the new lighting, it received a sweet and unexpected reward. A mother loggerhead sea turtle laid her eggs in the dunes right in front of the hotel. R&L Carrier employees who are vacationing at the right time will be able to watch the hatchlings pop from their nest – and not be turned around by the overtly bright lights behind them. Because those lights no longer exist. Instead, The Winds now sports a warming low glow, which visitors say calms the soul, and saves the lives of baby sea turtles.

Feeling the Glow?
Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization
Visit OIBSTPO’s website for more more information and ways you can help protect the sea turtles.

Photos by Ed Beckley and Peter Maguire