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Lights coming from businesses blamed for sea turtle deaths

Horrifying video shows a turtle massacre in South Florida that activists say never should have happened.

DANIA BEACH, Fla. – Horrifying video shows a turtle massacre in South Florida that activists say never should have happened.

Sea turtle nesting season ends Oct. 31, and while villages, towns and cities along the coast have strict rules and regulations regarding beachfront lighting, we found many ignoring them.

The turtle massacre happened last month on Beach Road in the parking lot of the Dania Beach Pier and Marina.

“It was a massacre,” said Jenny Wuenschel, who took several videos of the slain turtles, including one in which 18 turtles were found dead.

Wuenschel is one of several volunteers that patrols the beach from Port Everglades south, monitoring nests and collecting data.

“It’s 10 years of doing this and there’s no change,” she said.

“What’s going on?” Local 10 News investigative reporter Jeff Weinsier asked.

“What’s going on is the lights on Hollywood Beach are atrocious, and they’re disorienting sea turtles,” Wuenschel said.

From the beach, you can clearly see the intense light emanating from some businesses that line the broadwalk.

Hatchlings are attracted to that non-compliant bright light and head toward it instead of the Atlantic.

“So on that night, those hatchlings were headed straight for the ice cream shop?” Weinsier asked.

“Yes, yes,” replied Wuenschel. “And if nobody was there, those turtles would’ve died.”

Wenschsel said she witnessed several hatchlings this season headed toward the broadwalk and the lights.

“It should have never have happened,” she said. “If no one was there, those turtles would have died.”

Using a special filter, we were able to see exactly what the hatchlings see. The non-compliant light emits an intense glow and attracts them.

A T-shirt shop has bright fluorescent tube lighting and even after they closed, the lights remained on, despite a violation back in August.

“Those lights in the window are not sea turtle friendly, are they?” Weinsier asked the shop owner.

“Not really. We have to change it,” the owner said.

“Has anyone warned you or told you?” Weinsier asked.

“Yes, yes,” the owner responded.

“You gonna do it?” Weinsier asked.

“I have to do it (but) I don’t know where to buy those particular lights,” the owner said. “I do have to change them.”

Taco Joint on the boardwalk also had bright lights pointed toward the beach and was cited back on Oct. 13.

“You know anything about the lights?” Weinsier asked one employee. “They don’t tell you to turn down the lights for the sea turtles?”

“No, they do. They told us,” the employee said.

The Häagen-Dazs was also cited in August.

“We have a permit for our lights,” one employee claimed.

“You were cited, weren’t you?” Weinsier asked.

“No, we were never cited,” the employee said.

The city says they have no special permit and this season, Hollywood has issued 18 violations for non-compliant turtle lighting.

We found some of the city lights that line the broadwalk are non-compliant, as well, and some of the shields that are supposed to block light from the beach are missing.

The city says beach maintenance crews will make the repair.

“The city of Hollywood has a sea turtle in their logo. You’d think they would do better,” Wenschsel said.

The numbers for 2021 aren’t in yet, but in 2020, a total of 3,141 nests were logged in Broward County during nesting season.

Sea turtles lay an average of 110 eggs a nest.

Low mounted, shielded or downward-directed red and yellow lighting are sea turtle-friendly.

“I’ve heard of some enforcement, but it’s really, really limited. And it’s not enough. It’s been 10 years,” Wenschsel said.

Each municipality enforces their own sea turtle-friendly lighting ordinance.

So far this season, Key Biscayne has logged 106 night inspections and issued five warnings and two citations.

Miami Beach has had 53 complaints and issued one citation.

The Sunny Isles Beach city manager says he knows of no violations.

Hallandale Beach has had 11 cases.

Dania Beach has had no complaints and no citations until now.

Fort Lauderdale issued 80 citations. Most violators have complied and four cases are set for hearings.

Pompano Beach has resorted to an education outreach program.

Deerfield Beach has logged two complaints and no citations.

As for the video out of Dania Beach, Local 10 News sent the video to the city and two lighting violations were issued.

Ironically, Dania Beach owns the building and their tenant, Florida Atlantic University, was responsible for the lighting violations.

On the night we were poking around, Dania Beach’s city-owned marina had bright lights glaring toward the beach.

“This shouldn’t have to happen,” Wenschsel said. “It is an endangered species. We have got to do better. We have got to do better for our turtles.”


About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.