Sea Turtle Conservationist Says Group Will Sue Fort Lauderdale If City Tries to Move Nests

Sea Turtle Oversight Protection's Richard WhiteCloud has taken up the old Warren Zevon mantra of "Lawyers, Guns & Money."

Well, maybe not guns, but the Broward-based sea turtle conservation group promises to meet Fort Lauderdale officials with litigious aggression should they take up an agenda to try to move sea turtle nests to improve lighting on the beach.

"If they even think about a permit, we’re going to sue them with everything we've got,"  WhiteCloud says.

Last week, the city's Conference Committee Agenda took up concerns from local businesses and residents complaining of there not being enough lighting on parts of the beach.

But the darkness is a good thing when it comes to sea turtle nests. Artificial light confuses and disorientates hatchlings. They will often go toward the artificial light and away from the ocean. Artificial lights cause thousands of sea turtle hatchling deaths a year. 

But the city is in a bit of a pickle. Darkness around A1A and the beaches is a problem for businesses who say they're losing out on potential customers because of safety concerns. Traffic is also affected in some parts. And while sea turtles are an endangered species, the thinking from the city seems to be that obtaining a permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service would allow it to dig up sea turtle nests and move them.

In essence, an environmental permit would allow the city to get around the endangered species laws, though a fine would have to be paid to circumvent it. 

"Legally, they're just not allowed to do that," WhiteCloud tells New Times. "The city would have to spend $2 million to pursue that permit. It's a bullshit waste of money and time. We need real solutions."

The lighting and sea turtle agenda item discussed last week by the commissioners didn’t have a lot of specificity, but the commissioners gave the city the green light to pursue the environmental permit.

Commissioner Dean Trantalis, who favors pursuing a federal permit, said all avenues need to be pursued before taking up the permit issue, which would not only be costly but also time-consuming. 

While the issue is now being made public, WhiteCloud says this is an issue his group has been bringing up for years. 

"We’ve been pounding and pounding on this issue for a while now, and the city is making it look like they just came up with it," he says. "We're not against what business owners are complaining about. We understand. But the city commissioners have to do something proactive to help these business owners instead of misleading them."

One solution would be to retrofit LED lighting in dark areas. 

"There are incredible technologies available for lighting that would provide safety and security that diminishes impact on sea turtles," David Godfrey, executive director of Sea Turtle Conservancy, tells New Times. "Lighting retrofitting would be a win-win for everybody."

Godfrey says his group has been working with different counties throughout the state to set up these LED lights. Though it hasn't gotten to the southeast yet, Godfrey says Sea Turtle Conservancy would welcome the challenge of helping the city.

"These lights work," he says. "They're good for the economy because they last longer. That means reduced bills. They also provide good lighting because the wavelength of LED lighting goes beyond just the area being lit."

More important, Godfrey points out, LED lights do not affect sea turtles at all. Godrey explains that studies showed sea turtles simply ignore the LED wavelength and go about their natural process of finding the ocean without being disoriented. 

And he agrees with WhiteCloud that moving nests would be a nearly impossible task for the city to take up.

"I think it has no chance of happening," he says "The legal hurdles to move nests would be too great."

WhiteCloud is not as pragmatic.

"We'll be waiting with lawyers, and it will not be pretty for their side, I can assure you of that." 
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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph