Marco Island could have new sea turtle ordinance for 2020 nesting season

Maria Lamb, chairperson of the Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee, speaks to Sgt. Mark Haueter of Marco Island Police Department during a committee meeting on Nov. 20.

The Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee of the city of Marco Island could complete a new sea turtle lighting ordinance before the 2020 nesting season, according to the committee's chairperson Maria Lamb.

"It is my hope to get this working before the 2020 nesting season," Lamb said at the Wednesday committee meeting.

Lamb said the timeline is possible if the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) updates its Model Lighting Ordinance for Marine Turtle Protection before the next season that starts on May 1.

The idea is to write the new city ordinance based on the latest recommendations from FWC, according to Lamb.

"Why do the work twice?" Lamb said.

FWC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Committee members talked generally during the meeting about some ideas that have been previously discussed by City Council, like setting higher fines.

"I think fines should be greater," member Ruth McCann said.

Ray McChesney, member of Marco Island's Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee, said during a committee meeting on Oct. 20  the code enforcement magistrate should issue higher fines for repeat offenders of the sea turtle lighting ordinance.

Member Ray McChesney said the code enforcement magistrate should impose higher penalties against repeat violators.

"I think when the magistrate is making her decision, [...] in a case like (Madeira) they should be fined the maximum," McChesney said.

The Eagle reported earlier this month that the city's code enforcement issued 41 notices for violating the sea turtle lighting ordinance during this year's nesting season, 11 more than in 2018.

Captain Dave Baer of the Marco Island Police Department cited an increase in enforcement efforts as one of the reasons for the increase.

Myrnabelle Roche, Marco's code enforcement magistrate, has issued $3,300 in fines this year against 10 condominium associations, 61.17 percent less than the city's request of $8,500.

Roche issued two fines against the Madeira condo association for two separate sea turtle lighting violations.

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 Marco 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.

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.

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 left their balcony lights on at night on July 25.

The Sea Winds condo manager said during an Aug. 27 hearing that staff gives educational brochures and posts flyers on all floors.

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

Although sea turtle season ended on Oct. 31, the city may bring more cases to the magistrate as Code Enforcement continues to evaluate open cases, according to Baer.

When 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."

"Our intent is that it is going to be the model ordinance of coastal cities," Lamb said.

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