Marco Island condos fined $4K for sea turtle lighting code violations

Myrnabelle Roche, Marco Island code enforcement magistrate, speaks during a code hearing July 28, 2020.

Marco Island code enforcement magistrate Myrnabelle Roche issued $4,000 in fines Tuesday against several condos for violating lighting restrictions during sea turtle season.

In general terms, buildings located on the beach must either turn off exterior lights visible from the beach after 9 p.m. from May 1 to Oct. 31 or replace them with low intensity alternatives to prevent the disorientation of sea turtles, according to city code

All windows and doors that can be seen from the beach must be tinted or covered with curtains or blinds.

Roche issued fines adding up to $2,000 to all four towers of the South Seas condos located on Seaview Court.

Code compliance officer Andy Lindenmuth said he saw the interior lights of apartment units in Tower 1 during a beach patrol on the night of June 23. On July 7, he observed the interior and balcony lights of several apartment units in towers 2, 3 and 4.

Katharine Gorgan, administrative assistant representing tower 2 of South Seas condos, speaks during a Marco Island code enforcement hearing July 28, 2020.

Katharine Gorgan, administrative assistant representing Tower 2, said there are signs throughout the building alerting unit owners and renters of the lighting restrictions.

"If it's a renter then I call the owner the next morning," she said.

Roche issued fines adding up to $1,000 to the Tradewinds condo located on 180 Seaview Court after Lindenmuth said he saw lights coming from apartment units and a parking lot light pole while patrolling the beach on June 23. On July 7, he saw the interior lights of several apartment units.

Samantha Castro, property manager of Tradewinds, said the condo is about halfway done replacing the glass of the building's windows with one that is appropriate for sea turtle season and that it has signs in common areas alerting residents about the lighting restrictions.

"We have spoken with each of the owners who have caused the violation," Castro said.

Samantha Castro, property manager of the Tradewinds condo, speaks during a Marco Island code enforcement hearing July 28, 2020.

Castro said the apartment units found in violation have not caused more trouble after management contacted the owners.

In regards to the parking lot, Castro said a tree was chopped recently, exposing the bright light to the beach. The light has since been replaced to be code-compliant, Castro said.

Roche issued fines of $500 each against the Crescent Beach condo located on 100 N. Collier Blvd. and the Admiralty House condo on 140 Seaview Court because the interior lights of some apartment units were seen from the beach on July 7.

Roche also ordered each condo to pay $50 in fees for each notice of violation.

Code enforcement has issued so far this year at least 17 notices for violating sea turtle lighting rules, documents show. More violation notices are on the way, according to Capt. Dave Baer of the Marco Island Police Department, which oversees the code enforcement division.

Code enforcers issued 41 notices for violating sea turtle lighting rules during last year's nesting season, according to police. The figure represents nearly a 37% increase from 2018 when 30 notices were issued.

In 2019, notices of violation resulted in $3,300 in fines issued against 10 condominium associations.

Artificial light can deter female sea turtles when they come ashore to nest and cause them to return to the ocean without nesting, something biologists call a false crawl.

The lights also can misdirect hatchlings, putting them at risk in parking lots and busy streets when they try to return to the ocean, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website

As of last week, Collier County reported 159 false crawls on Marco Island, 25 fewer than last year. The main nesting months run from May to October, according to FWC

"If you can see your shadow on the beach at night — the light is too bright," is a good rule of thumb, according to the city's website.

How to decrease sea turtle disorientations:

  • 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

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