For Immediate Release, August 27, 2020

Contact:

Richard WhiteCloud, Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, (954) 770-2344, richard.whitecloud@seaturtleop.net
Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Launched Against Fort Lauderdale Hilton for Harming Sea Turtles

Lighting at Bahia Mar Resort Has Disoriented Thousands of Protected Hatchlings

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.— Conservation groups filed a notice today of their intent to sue the Bahia Mar Resort and Yachting Center and Hilton Hotels for lighting practices that harm nesting and hatchling sea turtles.

The resort’s restaurants, marina and Double Tree by Hilton hotel display indoor and outdoor lights that have disoriented thousands of protected loggerhead and green sea turtle hatchlings since 2015, making them more vulnerable to predators and dehydration.

The resort has 60 days to remedy the violations of the Endangered Species Act and Fort Lauderdale’s city code, which in some cases may be as simple as changing some lightbulbs and drawing curtains at night.

“The Bahia Mar Resort and Marina and the Hilton Double Tree hotel have ignored their responsibility to protect sea turtles from artificial light on their properties for far too long,” said Richard WhiteCloud, president of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection. “The lights injure and harm sea turtles and their hatchlings and Bahia Mar Resort and Marina and the Hilton Double Tree hotel must be held accountable for the thousands of sea turtles that have been harmed.”

At least 29 complaints regarding harmful artificial lighting have been filed against the resort with the city of Fort Lauderdale, which issued citations to the resort in 2016 and 2019. Despite the warnings the resort still uses non-compliant lighting that shines brightly on the beaches, including when the resort has been closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conservation groups wrote executives at Hilton Hotels, the owners of the property, and the operators of the marina earlier this summer to ask them to remedy these problems but have received no response.

“Fort Lauderdale Beach is prime habitat for these miraculous creatures, and we’re hopeful Hilton will do the right thing by fixing its lighting problem,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With hatchlings continuing to emerge, the resort must act quickly to ensure no more sea turtles are harmed.”

Nesting female sea turtles and their hatchlings have an innate ability to find the ocean, which reflects the moon and stars. But sea turtles nesting near artificial lighting become disoriented and crawl away from the ocean. Without human assistance, the disoriented hatchlings are much more likely to succumb to predation, dehydration and fatigue before they can make it to the ocean.

Sea Turtle Oversight Protection volunteers patrol Fort Lauderdale beaches nearly every night from March through October to rescue sea turtle hatchlings that have been disoriented by artificial lights and help guide them into the ocean. These volunteers have documented 3,853 turtle hatchlings disoriented by the resort’s lights since 2016, including 698 just this year.

Artificial lighting problems can be remedied through relatively simple and inexpensive changes, such as installing shades on exterior lights, using different types of lighting, blocking interior lights from reaching the beach by using window curtains or shades, and simply turning off nonessential lights during sea turtle nesting season.

Sea Turtle Oversight Protection is a nonprofit sea turtle conservation organization made up of local volunteers who conduct nighttime nest surveys and monitoring to rescue and release disoriented sea turtle hatchlings in Broward County, Florida.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.