By Kari Pugh | Correspondent
A pilot light project of Dominion Energy and the Town of Nags Head aims to make Outer Banks’ beaches more friendly to sea turtle hatchlings.
In late November, Dominion crews began installing amber LED lighting at town beach accesses following a review of town lighting regulations requested by the Nags Head Board of Commissioners.
“There was general concern about outdoor lighting, protecting sea turtles, staff was looking at all those issues, and this emerged,” Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon said. “All environmental issues including lighting are really high priority for our town and our board. So once we became aware of the possibility, the board was able to give direction and says ‘yes, we want to explore this.’”
Outer Banks beaches from the Virginia-North Carolina line to Nags Head usually see about 30 turtle nests each season, with each containing about 100 eggs.
Hatchlings will move toward any light once they’re above ground, which means they can head the wrong way toward hotels, homes and streets instead of the ocean.
“The thinking is the moon, stars, the downward slope of the beach are all factors,” said John CeCe, president of the Outer Banks Network for Endangered Sea Turtles, known as N.E.S.T. “Light is an important factor for them to get into the water. This is a great first step for us.”
Accesses with new turtle-friendly lights include Gulf Stream, Gallery Row, Abalone, Blackman, Bladen, Curlew and East Tides Drive.
The power company and the town are testing a few different types of lights before choosing the best for the rest of the town’s 42 public beach accesses, said David Elliot, a Dominion technical engineering consultant.
Chief Town Planner Holly White said the officials were already looking at light trespass, glare and “just a general concern about lighting” when Dominion approached the town about the specialty lights.
“The town has historically been very committed to a dark night sky,” White said. “This will be beneficial not just for humans but for both nesting turtles and birds.”