Prefiled state bill would ban artificial light in designated coastal areas to protect sea turtles, hatchlings

Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 6:46 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 16, 2023 at 6:47 PM EST
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PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. (WMBF) - A prefiled State Senate Bill 133 may soon prohibit the use of artificial light in areas where sea turtles are likely to nest.

In tandem with the Sea Turtle Protection Act, this bill would ensure the entire state abides by this rule. Right now, some counties, like Georgetown, already have regulations in place, but Horry County does not.

South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts, or S.C.U.T.E., is a non-profit organization whose volunteers monitor beaches in Horry and Georgetown counties and protect turtles’ nesting habitats.

S.C.U.T.E. leader Richard Scott says when female sea turtles lay their eggs, they look for high, dark, sandy dunes. If they cannot find a sufficient nesting place, they return to the water.

“If there’s a lot of artificial light or fireworks or noise, she turns around and goes back to the ocean and does not lay her egg--we call that a false crawl,” said Scott. “Last year, we had more false crawls than we had real crawls.”

Scott emphasized lights have the most impact on turtle hatchlings. When they first hatch, they look for the light. If they see artificial light, which is stronger than natural light, they will be drawn to it.

“They look for the reflection of the light on the waves, it’s a green and blue light and they look for that light,” said Scott. “If they can’t see that light or there’s a brighter light, they’re going to come out of that nest and go toward that brighter light.”

Scott says this has caused turtle hatchlings to end up in places like garages and swimming pools.

Female turtles usually begin appearing on the beaches around May and will lay their eggs in June or July. Scott advises beachgoers not to touch turtle eggs if they see them, but people can bury them in the sand if they are exposed.

As for hatchlings, people should make sure they get to the water safely, but Scott suggests people use gloves to prevent substances like sunscreen and self-tanner from touching the turtles.