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OIB leaders pass updated light ordinance, look into trapping foxes to protect sea turtles

The town lost 800 turtles this past summer because of artificial lights leading them away from the ocean
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 6:22 PM EST
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OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Spend any amount of time along the coast and it won’t take long to see how important sea turtles are to the area. Now, one town wants to make sure the endangered species are protected.

Risks to sea turtles come from two major sources: other wildlife and humans.

“When those babies come out of the nest, they’re looking for the stars or the moon,” said Debra Allen, the island coordinator for the Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization.

That can be a problem when you have an oceanfront lined with beach houses.

“When they don’t see that and they see a light bulb, or a house light, or a streetlight, or even these bright flashlights, they will go directly to that because that’s what they think is the stars or the moon, or the effervescence of the breaking waves,” said Allen.

The town lost 800 turtles this past summer because of artificial lights leading them away from the ocean. Town leaders hope its newly modified light ordinance will help cut down on the problem.

“What we’re doing is requiring all new construction on oceanfront or second row to either have a baffled light or one that shines light downward,” said Commissioner Wayne Rowell.

Oceanfront homeowners like Scott Chapman are happy to hear more is being done to protect the turtles. Even though current homeowners don’t have to bring their houses up to compliance, Chapman has shielded lights ready to go.

“When you put [the shield] over the light bulb, all of the light that comes out of the light bulb comes out from [underneath],” said Chapman. ”It shines white standard light [downward.]”

To Chapman, the modified ordinance is a start, but he hopes more change is on the way.

“I would like to see the town encourage retrofitting of existing light fixtures on private residences with the turtle-proof bulbs,” said Chapman.

The way he and Allen see it, saving the endangered turtles is as simple as changing a light bulb. That’s why the Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization is offering free amber light bulbs to any oceanfront homeowner in town.

“All you have to do is go to our Facebook page,” said Allen. “Get the contact information and call us. We will come out and assess their home and get them what they need to protect the turtles on Ocean Isle Beach.”

Although the ordinance does not mention those amber lights, the town does encourage homeowners to use them on the oceanfront. However, that is not a law or something that can be enforced.

Lights may be a large, man-made threat to the sea creatures, but there are also more natural threats at play. Leaders say foxes on the beach have gotten more aggressive. Commissioners worry that it could get to a point of being a danger to humans, so they also passed a resolution to look into trapping foxes to control the population.

“From what we’re being told by the turtle patrol people, foxes have actually run between them while they’re sitting at nests as turtles were boiling out and making their way towards the sea,” said Rowell. “Foxes are actually so aggressive as to come down and come after the small turtles and baby turtles.”

Rowell says the sea turtle protection organization reported netting surrounding some nests to have been cut over the summer. Leaders originally thought it was a person with a pair of scissors attacking the nests, but camera footage caught the actual culprit: a fox.

Thankfully, there have been no reports of humans being attacked by foxes to date. During this morning’s meeting, commissioners said they don’t want to wait for things to get to that point before taking action.

The town is in the early stages of hiring a professional to trap the foxes during the off-season. Rowell says they must first compile a list of potential trappers in the area before making any final decisions.

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