Sea turtle lighting code violation notices increase in 2019, Marco Island PD says

"Do not disturb sea turtle nest," a yellow sign reads at a sea turtle nesting site in Tigertail Beach, Marco Island on Sept. 11.

Code Enforcement issued 41 notices for violating sea turtle lighting rules during this year's nesting season which ended Oct. 31, according to Captain Dave Baer of the Marco Island Police Department.

The figure represents nearly a 37 percent increase from last year when 30 notices were issued.

Baer cites increased enforcement efforts by the city as one of the reasons for the increase. 

In 2019, notices of violation have resulted in $3,300 in fines issued against 10 condominium associations. In all but one case, the condos also had to pay $50 for administrative fees.

Myrnabelle Roche, code enforcement magistrate, issued two fines against the Madeira condo association for two separate violations.

Code Enforcement magistrate Myrnabelle Roche speaks to the legal representative of Madeira on Marco Island condo association during a hearing on Sept. 24.

In August, the Eagle reported Roche issued a $50 fine against Madeira despite the city's request of $500 after code enforcement officer Andy Lindenmuth observed July 25 that Madeira's palm tree string lights were on at night.

Roche did not order Madeira to pay an additional $50 for administrative fees.

In September, Roche issued a $500 fine against Madeira for violating once more the sea turtle lighting restriction ordinance despite the city's request of a $3,500 fine, the Eagle reported.

"I noticed that the poles around the pool were unshielded and also the decorative lighting around the palm trees were on again," Lindenmuth said at the hearing.

Roche said she did not grant the city's request because there was no evidence of irreparable harm like the death of turtle hatchlings.

The Eagle reported in October that Marco Island city councilors want heftier fines against repeat offenders like Madeira after the condo association was issued a second notice  for supposedly violating dune and beach protection ordinances.

More:Marco Island councilors want heftier fines against Madeira, others

The other condo associations fined for violating sea turtle lighting rules this year were: Royal Seafarer, Admiralty House, Princess Del Mar, Tampico, Sandcastle I, Sea Winds,  Emerald Beach, South Seas Northwest and Charter Club of Marco Beach.

For all 11 violations, the city requested Roche to issue a total of $8,500 in fines but she fell short by $5,200.

While some associations were fined for keeping the lights on in common areas others like Sea Winds were fined because several individual unit owners or tenants left their balcony lights on.

Code enforcement magistrate Myrnabelle Roche issued a $250 fine against the Sea Winds condominium association after several individual unit owners or tenants left their balcony lights on at night on July 25.

The Sea Winds condo manager said at a hearing on Aug. 27 staff gives educational brochures and posts flyers in all floors.

"We are at the mercy of the weekly rentals," the manager said. "We do try our best." 

The city may bring more cases to the magistrate as Code Enforcement continues to evaluate open cases, according to Baer.

When female sea turtles crawl onto the beach at night, they lay their nests and then are compelled back to the naturally bright horizon over the Gulf of Mexico, according to the city's website. Artificial lights on the shoreline disorient sea turtles and deter them from nesting or from returning to the ocean.

"Likewise, the hatchlings will travel inland toward the brighter artificial light, using the energy they need to swim into the Gulf of Mexico," the website reads. 

"If they are disoriented, they often die from dehydration and are easily preyed upon by fire ants, ghost crabs, and birds."

Sea turtle nesting and hatching season starts on May 1.

2018 numbers do not match previous report

MIPD sent an email on Aug. 9 to several news organizations, including the Eagle, informing, among other things, that 2018 ended with 20 notices of violation for sea turtle lighting restrictions.

This figure does not match the 30 notices MIPD now reports to have issued during the same year.

"I reviewed the data I was provided yesterday, there were 30 unique cases (events) in 2018," Baer wrote in an email to the Eagle. "I suspect the variation is based on how the person running the report input the search criteria in the database – the data is not in a drop-down no choice system, so how the event is titled will impact subsequent data."

"After reviewing the statistics we updated the numbers," Baer said in a phone call.  

What you can do to avoid fines

  • Turn off all unnecessary lights.
  • Close blinds and curtains.
  • Shield light sources.
  • Apply window tint to windows.
  • Don’t use decorative landscape lighting on the beach side.
  • Plant vegetation buffers between light sources and beach.
  • Don’t use flashlights or flash photography on the beach at night.

Source: City of Marco Island