Nearly 90% of sea turtle nesting in the United States occurs in the state of Florida. Every year, more than 100,000 threatened and endangered sea turtles nest on Florida beaches, making it one of the most important nesting sites for these creatures. However, Florida lawmakers are pushing a new law through the Florida Legislature that could put the survival of these sea turtles at risk.
One of the biggest threats to sea turtle survival is light pollution. Hatchlings have a strong attraction to light, and human-generated light from street lights and buildings can make them disoriented. On Florida’s Atlantic coast, some beaches with high turtle nesting density have lost thousands of hatchlings due to artificial light. To address this issue, Florida’s coastal cities and towns have passed ordinances limiting the kinds of lights that can be installed near shorelines. These ordinances have been successful in limiting light pollution in areas where sea turtles nest, thereby reducing the number of disorientations.
However, the new bill being pushed in the Florida Legislature would threaten the ability of local governments to pass important conservation measures like light pollution laws. Under this bill, any business could sue the local government in opposition to an ordinance, and the local government would be required to stop all enforcement of the ordinance while litigation was underway. If the business prevailed in litigation, it could recover attorney fees from the local government.
This bill would not only have a “chilling effect” on local governments’ ability to enact laws to protect their local environment, but it would also freeze the enforcement of crucially important ordinances that protect Florida’s sea turtles from disorientation. If local governments are unable to enact or strengthen their existing, outdated ordinances, it is not an exaggeration to say that thousands of protected sea turtles may die each year. In addition, if an ordinance is suspended while litigation is occurring, it would mean that artificial light on that area’s beach would not be regulated, and more disorientations could occur.
The sea turtles in Florida are already facing many threats, including habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. They need all the protection they can get to survive and thrive. Local governments play a crucial role in protecting the environment, and their ability to pass laws and ordinances should not be undermined by state legislation. By allowing businesses to sue local governments over ordinances meant to protect sea turtles, the preemption bill being pushed in the Florida Legislature threatens the survival of these beloved creatures.
It is imperative that we protect sea turtles and their nesting sites. This bill must not be allowed to pass.