U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Southeast Region News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        Vicki M. Boatwright or

November 26, 1996                                 Diana M. Hawkins



A modification to stadium lights located near turtle nesting beaches on the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, will save the lives of thousands of turtle hatchlings each year. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough, beach lighting tends to disorient newly hatched turtles and instead of instinctively heading for the ocean, the turtles are attracted inland and perish.

The installation of visors on the stadium lights of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted is being performed in connection with a Memorandum of Understanding signed recently by the Service and stadium owners, Virgin Islands Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation. The MOU was developed to assist in the conservation of endangered and threatened sea turtles that nest and hatch on the Sandy Point refuge.

This refuge is the largest nesting beach of the endangered leatherback sea turtle in the United States, and one of only thirteen significant leatherback nesting beaches in the world. It is the site of an intensive research and conservation project that was initiated in 1981 by the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources. The project is designed to protect the turtles and increase hatchling production.

As part of this project, researchers document the number of hatchlings leaving the beach each season. Although hatchling production has increased since the beginning of the project, each year researchers have documented severe disorientation of hatchlings toward the lights of Frederiksted. Biologists found that this disorientation is especially pronounced when the lights of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium are on, and it results in hatchlings heading toward Frederiksted when they leave the nest instead of going toward the water.

Researchers estimate that 35 percent of endangered leatherback hatchlings at the Sandy Point refuge are affected by the stadium lights approximately 4,000 to 6,000 hatchlings in any given year. Clough noted that endangered green and hawksbill sea turtles also nest on the refuge and are also likely being affected by the lights.

Disorientation resulting from street, building, and stadium lights near the beach greatly increases the time the turtle hatchlings spend on the beach and makes them very vulnerable to entanglement in vegetation; predation by crabs, night herons, and stray dogs; dehydration; and exhaustion. The Service has been working with coastal property owners and conservation agencies to solve this problem.


Release #R96-83

1996 News Releases

Go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region Home Page