Robotic vehicles enable high-resolution light pollution sampling of sea turtle nesting beaches
© 2018 Windle, Hooley and Johnston. Nesting sea turtles appear to avoid brightly lit beaches and often turn back to sea prematurely when exposed to artificial light. Observations and experiments have noted that nesting turtles prefer darker areas where buildings and high dunes act as light barriers. As a result, sea turtles often nest on darker beaches, creating spatial concentrations of nests. Artificial nighttime light, or light pollution, has been quantified using a variety of methods. However, it has proven challenging to make accurate measurements of ambient light at fine scales and on smaller nesting beaches. Additionally, light has traditionally been measured from stationary tripods perpendicular to beach vegetation, disregarding the point of view of a nesting sea turtle. In the present study, nighttime ambient light conditions were assessed on three beaches in central North Carolina: a developed coastline of a barrier island, a nearby State Park on the same barrier island comprised of protected and undeveloped land, and a completely uninhabited wilderness on an adjacent barrier island in the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Using an autonomous terrestrial rover, high resolution light measurements (mag/arcsec2) were collected every minute with two ambient light sensors along transects on each beach. Spatial comparisons between ambient light and nesting density at and between these locations reveal that highest densities of nests occur in regions with lowest light levels, supporting the hypothesis that light pollution from coastal development may influence turtle nesting distribution. These results can be used to support ongoing management strategies to mitigate this pressing conservation issue.
Windle, AE; Shane Hooley, D; Johnston, DW
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