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The Lure of Light

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A leatherback turtle hatchling. (Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife)

“A sea turtle’s life begins in darkness,” writes John R. Platt of SciAm’s Extinction Countdown blog. Buried in nests along the beach about 50 centimeters below the surface, they must first break out of their eggs before climbing and scraping their way up through the sand. When they emerge, usually during the night, they face two choices: “the dark slopes of the dunes and vegetation behind them and the gentle light of the ocean horizon ahead of them.”

The ocean is where the hatchlings need to go, and they will instinctively head toward the light. But these days, the brightest light often comes not from the ocean, but rather from hotels, homes and businesses lining the beach, which lure the young turtles in the wrong direction – a fatal mistake on their part. Thankfully, new LED lights operating at specific wavelengths and lower luminosity have been shown to “dramatically reduce” hatchling disorientation, Platt reports, and many seaside properties are making the switch.

Moreover, in Florida, which is home to 90 percent of the sea turtle nesting in the U.S., some of the money for lighting retrofits has come from penalties associated with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Read more here: “Sea Turtle Hatchlings Saved by LED Lights Funded by Deepwater Horizon Fines.”

Curtis Brainard About the Author: Curtis Brainard is the Blogs Editor at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @cbrainard.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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