Ocean Drive condo fined for violating sea turtle light law

Vero Beach police code enforcement officers have issued citations to a central beach condominium complex and the owners of an oceanfront home for violating the city’s “dark beach” ordinance after scores of newly-hatched sea turtles crawled toward busy Ocean Drive instead of toward the ocean itself, and at least four were killed by cars.

Vero Beach’s turtle lighting ordinance, first adopted in 1990 and amended several times, bans lights from shining onto the beach during nesting season which runs from March 1 through Oct. 31. The law is aimed at preventing hatchlings from crawling toward man-made light instead of being guided back to the ocean by moon and starlight. Penalties can range up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

The Village Spires Condominium at 3554 Ocean Drive and the rental home owned by a Miami couple right at the south end of the Conn Beach boardwalk received citations and fines last month for violating the ordinance by displaying lights that draw turtles inland, according to Lt. Dan Cook, head of the police department’s code enforcement division.

Cook said the Village Spires has a hearing scheduled before the Code Enforcement Board this week for failing to correct the problem. Police also issued a warning to the Racquet Club Condominium Association, and had the Public Works Department turn off a street light adjacent to the Racquet Club across the street from Conn Beach.

Last month’s misguided turtle migration came to light after Kelly and Tim Ward of Vero Beach and several others encountered newly-hatched loggerhead sea turtles scurrying toward Ocean Drive near the southern end of the boardwalk.

Kelly Ward said they scooped up the tiny animals in one of the rescuers’ skirts and released them into the ocean, just as members of Indian River County’s sea turtle team arrived on the scene.

Altogether, about 50 baby turtles were returned to the ocean, but at least four were killed by passing cars. Many more never were found.

Ward said rescuing the turtles was rewarding. “I’m sad they went in the wrong direction and glad there were people there to get them back to where they should be.”

The county’s sea turtle coordinator Kendra Cope and her staff notified Lt. Cook about the incident.

“The primary goal of code enforcement is to educate,” Cook said. “We don’t want to fine anybody unless they are not doing the right thing. We want to make sure everyone comes into compliance. We want to make sure the turtles make it to the ocean. We’re doing everything we can to make that happen . . . [and] we’re going to get aggressive with it.”

Cook said his officers issue an average of a dozen “dark beach” citations each season.

Kelly Walsh of Schlitt Property Management, which took over management of the Village Spires from AR Choice Aug. 1, said she just received a copy of the code enforcement summons last Friday. Walsh said overhead lights in the pool area and lights around the clubhouse have been turned off while “we’re trying to determine what amber lighting would be acceptable to the city.” Amber lights do not attract turtles landward.

Vero Beach Utilities Director Ted Fletcher said he directed his crews to disconnect the street light next to the Racquet Club after learning of the nearby turtle stranding.

He said the light will stay off until the department obtains a shield or a turtle light that shines straight down.

Fletcher said he knows of no other problems with city street lights attracting turtles.”We haven’t had any issues with that. This is the first time we’ve had a call in 15-16 years.”

A representative of the Racquet Club’s management company said she had not yet received a copy of the code enforcement warning.

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