The recent report of a squatter building a cottage on the Grande Riviere Beach has raised many wider issues. Beaches along the north and north-east coasts of Trinidad, such as Las Cuevas, Blanchisseuse, Matura, Grande Riviere etc, are nesting grounds for internationally endangered species such as the leatherback and hawksbill turtles. For six months of the year, these marine animals return to our shores to land a spot on the sand where they will lay their eggs. A couple months later, the turtles hatch and instinctively make their way to the water. However, bright electric lights on beach-front properties disorient and misdirect female adults attempting to nest as well as hatchlings trying to enter the sea. These electric lights disrupt the juvenile turtle’s journey to the ocean. This occurs because turtles navigate using the reflected light from the moon between land and water. There are no known locally adopted guidelines for the protection of turtles in our waters and limited protection on our beaches. Turtles are protected on land, but can be trapped offshore on their way to the beach. And those that reach the shore are faced with electric candlepower that blinds their vision.
Guidelines may be adopted from the Manual of Best Practices for Safeguarding Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches, Widecast Technical Report 2009. Simple measures can be implemented to reduce light intensity on these beaches including using vegetation hedges, shades on lighting and low pressure sodium vapour lights which emit less attractive wavelengths to turtles. Additionally, legislation governing the distance a structure can be built from the beach must be enforced to avoid lighting which will affect nesting grounds. Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) calls on the Minister of Food Production, Land and Marine Resources and the Minister of Housing and the Environment to: —Implement guidelines for the regulating of lighting on properties constructed on beaches which are visited by sensitive species. —Ensure that the Town and Country Planning Division enforces regulations dealing with setback distance of all development and put measures in place to remove the impact of those that already encroach on these ecosystems. Many turtle-hosting countries around the world have recognised the importance of beaches to turtles and have developed appropriate legislation to restrict lighting on nesting beaches.
In 2007, the town of Hillsboro Beach, Florida, passed Ordinance 232: A Turtle Lighting Ordinance, which allows for the protection of the marine turtle nesting habitat, nesting females, and hatchlings. The ordinance instructs that no lighting must be installed, maintained or illuminated on public or private property that would directly illuminate the beach from sunset to sunup during the sea turtle nesting period from March 1 through October 31 of each year. In addition, property owners are responsible for ensuring that all lighting along the beach is controlled so as not to illuminate the beach from sunset to sunrise during this period. The ordinance also seeks to regulate interior lighting that is visible from the beach. Likewise, in other places such as Palm Beach County, a sea turtle lighting plan is required to be completed for all coastal lighting proposed for installation within particular jurisdictional boundaries important for nesting turtles. With regard to coastal construction setbacks, guidelines differ globally depending on shoreline characteristics, but typically range from 15 metres to 100 metres from the line of permanent vegetation. We are appealing to the energy-based CEO of the Environmental Management Authority to eliminate unnecessary and undesired light pollution, enforce existing legislation and protect these ancient turtles which are an integral part of our natural history and can become a pillar of our tourism sector.