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Naval Station Mayport installs sea turtle-friendly lighting

By TERESA STEPZINSKI | The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville | Published: January 5, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — To help fellow mariners navigate, Naval Station Mayport via American Electrical Contracting recently installed more than 760 new lighting fixtures intended to protect nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings.

The new lighting – specialized bulbs and fixtures – will also create major savings on electricity costs, company officials said.

"It is a great feeling when we get to install a system that delivers wins on multiple fronts. Our crew really enjoyed such a feel-good project," said Dave Yencarelli, chief operating officer of American Electrical Contracting.

Research including a 2014 University of Florida Conservation Clinic report, shows nesting turtles follow moonlight when returning to the ocean.

Scientists also believe sea turtle hatchlings are born with an innate instinct that leads them in the brightest direction, which normally would be moonlight reflecting off the ocean, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Hatchlings are easily confused by excess lighting from near-shore buildings and streets and mistaking it for moonlight head inland where they can be eaten by predators, run over by motorists in streets and parking lots, or drown in swimming pools, according to the conservancy – an international nonprofit, which is the world's oldest sea turtle research and conservation group.

Specialized bulbs and fixtures such as those installed at the navy base, can help prevent the turtles and their young from falling prey to predators, exhaustion and dehydration, company officials said.

"We do our research to make sure what we recommend to a client does what it is designed to do," said Keith Christensen, senior project manager for American Electrical Contracting. "We've seen other areas having success with similar lighting, so we knew we were on the right track."

In 2017, Panama City Beach reported that almost 72 percent of hatchlings became disoriented by artificial lighting. Meanwhile, turtle-friendly light installations in Sarasota and Manatee counties showed a 100 percent reduction in the number of disoriented hatchlings.

Naval Station Mayport is home to loggerhead sea turtle nesting sites. The turtle nesting season runs August to October. A recent team looking to help lost or disoriented turtles reported 60 successful baby loggerhead births in late August.

"Let's not forget about the savings," Yencarelli said. "We sourced lighting options that are expected to provide energy savings of at least 30 percent, some as high as 70 percent, over the previous fixtures and bulbs. So we help these beautiful creatures and the project pays for itself and then some."

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