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Neon Lights That Help Protect Sea Turtles Now Available


January 23, 2002

Lorna Patrick, 850/769-0552 x229
Jim Rothschild, 404/679-7291

This week, as part of a pilot demonstration project, neon lights that are less harmful to sea turtles, will be installed along the beachfront as a protection measure at TOPS'L Beach Resort in Destin, Florida. The new neon lights are aesthetically pleasing, economical to run, and can withstand the conditions of the beachfront environment. The project installation will begin Thursday, January 24, 2002. A reception and an official lighting ceremony are scheduled on Saturday, January 26; the reception begins at 4:30 p.m. and the ceremony is at 5:35 p.m. Partners involved in the demonstration project include TOPS'L Beach Resort, Abbot-Resorts, (Destin, FL), Lighting the Way Enterprises, (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), the South Walton Turtle Watch Group (Santa Rosa Beach, FL), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Federally-listed loggerhead (threatened), green (endangered), and leatherback (endangered) sea turtles nest along the Florida panhandle coast from Franklin to Escambia Counties. Installation of lights along the beachfront that are less harmful to sea turtles is part of an ongoing recovery effort. Artificial beachfront lights can attract hatchlings, causing them to crawl away from the water into the dunes where they could be exposed to predators or end up on a highway. After hatching from their eggs, hatchlings must be able to emerge from the nest and quickly crawl to the sea. Hatchling turtles that fail will become food for ghost crabs and birds or become dehydrated. Artificial lights also affect adult female sea turtles which avoid well-lighted beaches when nesting.

"Our goal with the neon lights is to reduce potential impacts on the beachfront so that hatchling turtles have a better chance of reaching the sea and adult female turtles have suitable habitat in which to lay nests" said Gail Carmody, Project Leader, Fish and Wildlife Service, Panama City, Florida Field Office.

Neon lights are less harmful to sea turtles because they emit a pure-red light source. Sea turtles see differently than humans because they spend their lives in a blue ocean that filters out reds and yellows. The neon lights come in a variety of colors: red, blue, violet, and green, and all are less harmful when they are directed away from the beach and contribute minimally to the cumulative sky glow. However, red neon is the least harmful of the lights and should be the first consideration when installing lights adjacent to the beach.

"We have seen an increase in sea turtle hatchlings being attracted to artificial beachfront lights as coastal development has increased and have been seeking partners for a turtle lighting demonstration project such as this," said Sharon Maxwell, Program Chairman for the South Walton Turtle Watch Group. "We could not have accomplished this project without our hosts, TOPS'L Beach Resort and Abbot-Resorts, and the technology brought by Lighting the Way Enterprises." The Turtle Watch Group, in cooperation with the Florida Park Service, monitors sea turtle nesting along the 27 miles of beaches in Walton County, Florida.

Mr. John Velella, developer of the neon turtle light and President of Lighting the Way Enterprises, Inc., discovered the value of neon lights when he was working on developing boat dock lighting that could withstand the climate and marine environment of south Florida. In consultation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Marine Research Institute, Mr. Velella realized that a light fixture was needed that was less of an attractant to sea turtles, sturdy, practical, beautiful, and energy efficient. His work produced a neon light fixture that has a longevity 25 percent longer (five to seven years) than most lights used in beachfront developments. His new neon light is also energy efficient, costing about one-half cent per hour compared to nine cents an hour with most beachfront lights. Mr. Velella has received a patent on his neon light.

The demonstration project at TOPS'L Beach Resort was funded with Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife grant funds to the South Walton Turtle Watch Group, with a 50 percent project match by Lighting the Way Enterprises, Inc.

If you would like to attend the reception or the lighting ceremony please contact Ms. Jackie Gibson by telephone at 850-267-9122, e-mail at, or fax at 850-622-9196. TOPS'L Beach Resort is located at 9001 West Highway 98, Destin, Florida (just east of the entrance to Sandestin Resorts). Saturday's reception will be held in the lobby at the Beach Manor condominium within TOPS'L Beach Resort, and the official lighting will be held at the boardwalk and pool on the Gulf side of the condominium. The Guard at the entrance station will provide further directions. Ms. Jackie Gibson is also the contact for directions to the Resort or to make an appointment to observe the installation of the lights, Thursday through Saturday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices, and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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