Light pollution along coastal areas prevents sea turtles from nesting

loggerhead turtle photo
CC BY-SA 2.0 Matt Kiefer

Most species of sea turtles are endangered, so it's very important for us to, first, stop doing the harmful things we do (ie. catching them in fishing nets, destroying their nesting spots, polluting the sea, overfishing, etc), and also figure out helpful things to do to help them bounce back. New research published in the journal Biological Conservation shows the impact of light pollution on sea turtle nesting habits might just help with both those things. We already knew that lighting beaches at night could disrupt hatchlings' by screwing with their ability to find the water and by making them more visible to predators, but it turns out that light pollution in coastal areas is also a problem for mature sea turtles.

Indeed, by comparing maps showing areas in Israel where sea turtles nest and image of the same area taken from orbit, researchers found that turtles preferred nesting in dark stretches of coast.

"Our findings are one of the first to show that night lights estimated with satellite-based imagery can be used to explain sea turtle nesting activity over a large-scale area," [Tessa Mazor, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland] said.

The results could be applied to other Mediterranean locations due to the high intensity of coastal activities, she added, but also have applicability worldwide.

"Most sea turtle species are nocturnal nesters and thus affected by artificial night-light activity, so these results would apply in areas where nesting beaches are close by to cities and human activities," she said.

This type of information can be extremely useful to conservation efforts. For example, it's great to create a protected corridor for sea turtles, but we should also make sure that the area isn't full of light pollution that will discourage turtles from nesting there.


See also: Puerto Rico creates an ecological corridor to protect leatherback turtles

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