Beachfront businesses in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood refuse to comply with sea turtle lighting regulations

South Florida leads the state when it comes to sea turtle hatchling disorientations.

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Sea turtle nesting season is in full swing.

Unfortunately, South Florida leads the state when it comes to hatchling disorientations.

That’s when those baby turtles head to artificial light instead of naturally going out to sea.

Local 10 News obtained a list of repeat offenders, which includes businesses and condos who can’t or won’t follow the rules when it comes to special sea turtle lighting.

Back on July 9 along Hollywood Beach, sea turtle hatchlings, headed toward the bright lights along the Broadwalk instead of naturally and instinctually heading to the ocean.

It’s a move that usually ends up being a fatal one for these endangered species.

Ralph Anidjar, a Hollywood Beach business owner, is a repeat offender.

His t-shirt shop on the Broadwalk was cited by the City of Hollywood in 2021 and again this year.

From the beach, you can see how bright the lights are emanating from his store.

Those bright lights attract and disrupt the ability of the hatchlings to naturally find the sea.

There are very strict rules and penalties that have been in place for years.

Anidjar did change some exterior bulbs, but the same standard applies to the interior.

“I’m not going to put my lights here in yellow,” he said. “That would be a little ridiculous to my opinion.

“No, no, I won’t do that.”

While shrugging his shoulders, Anidjar said, “If someone can give me a solution, if an engineer can give me a solution and we can dim those lights.”

Jenny Wuenschel is a Hollywood sea turtle volunteer who works Hollywood Beach at night and tries to guide the hatchlings to the ocean.

“They don’t see the need, they don’t see how important it is to save the sea turtles,” Wuenschel said. “There is a happy win-win situation, where we can have happy, sea turtle friendly lighting and it is safe for businesses and pedestrians.”

One of the biggest issues is that people think sea turtle lighting is not safe for people.

A Haagen-Dazs ice cream parlor on the Broadwalk is also a repeat offender.

The city is set to place a lien on the property for continued non-compliance.

Hollywood has issued 24 violations so far this nesting season, and those who don’t comply must go before a special magistrate and face fines up to $1,000 a day.

In Fort Lauderdale there have been 67 sea turtle lighting violations so far this season.

Of them, 40 have complied while nine are repeat offenders.

Seven of them are residential buildings along the Galt Ocean Mile, north of Oakland Park Boulevard.

One of the worst areas is around Sunrise Boulevard and A1A.

From the beach, it’s easy to see the bright lights emanating toward the beach.

Melissa Alexander was in the area for a hatch-out earlier this season.

“There were a little over 80 that came out of (a nest) and 79 went the wrong way,” she said. “You will see them emerge from the nest and they will push themselves up on their flippers and they look around. Each one individually makes up their mind.

“We know turtles are going to die.”

El Taquito is a repeat offender in that area, but they had no answers when confronted by Local 10 News’ Jeff Weinsier.

The brightest light seen from the beach in that area came from Pizza Rotti on Northeast 9th Street.

They were cited this season but have made no changes.

When asked by Weinsier about the bright lights, an employee said they will make the needed changes.

Melissa Alexander has spent 12 nesting seasons volunteering on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

“It’s laziness. It’s a lack of empathy, it’s a lack of compassion,” Alexander said. “It’s just a complete disregard for wildlife. They are endangered animals.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggests using low wattage red, orange or amber lighting.

Businesses that can’t afford to comply have the option to apply for grants.

“It is such an easy fix, it just boggles the mind,” said Alexander.

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.