Lights vs Turtles: On this Georgia island, the lights are winning

The number of sea turtle nests has plummeted on one section of a Georgia island's beachfront, and environmentalists are blaming lights from the recently opened Westin Hotel.

While scientists have counted 111 nests on Jekyll Island – overall a healthy total - they found only one in the sands by the Westin, where normally they would find eight, The Florida Times-Union's jacksonville.com reported (a sea turtle can lay hundreds of eggs in a single nest).

David Egan, co-director of watchdog group the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, pointed the finger at the Westin's 10 lighting violations that include 'light leaking from windows, partially shielded fixtures, individual room balcony lights, pool, tree and arbor lighting and gas lanterns', the website wrote.

The Westin opened in April.

'The height of the Westin, the amount of glass and the amount of light and its closeness to the beach make in front of the Westin an unfriendly zone for nesting,' Egan said.

Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said it is a crucial issue at this time of year because turtles are continuing to arrive from the sea, and existing eggs are about hatch.

Not only do the lights discourage turtles from nesting, but they also disorient hatchlings from finding the sea, as the young turtles head toward the lightest point on the horizon, normally the sea (Townsville, Australia has deployed directional LEDs that spray less light pollution in an effort to help hatchlings find water).

Jekyll Island senior marketing director Meggan Hood said the Westin and other lighting violators are working to comply with regulations. Dodd said they are not responding fast enough.

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Photo is from Ins1122 via Flickr