One of the many memorable moments of last year’s (2019) Global Eco Conference was Bundaberg Regional Council’s presentation on their new program for Reducing Urban Glow (Reducing urban glow: supporting sea turtle survival using open data) Created in collaboration with university researchers, community groups, tourism organisations and other bodies, this program “aims to empower the community to make informed decisions about their use of light and take positive action to reduce urban glow.” [Bundaberg Regional Council, 2020].
Why is reducing urban glow important for the Bundaberg region?
Reducing urban glow is particularly important for the Bundaberg region, as its coastline and the beautiful Mon Repos beach support the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland. This region actually has the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific region!
This nesting turtle population has become a prime attraction for tourists to the region (Mon Repos hosts the only ranger-guided turtle encounter available on the east coast) and it is instrumental for research into turtle conservation. The success of nesting and hatching turtles on the Bundaberg coastline is critical for the survival of the endangered loggerhead turtle.
Nature Tourism certified Kelly’s Beach Resort offers Turtle Tour Packages to visitors to the region.
How does the Reducing Urban Glow project work?
The Bundaberg regional community, especially in the prolific turtle nesting sites along the coastline, have a real sense of ownership and responsibility for the success of the breeding turtle population in the region. The collaborative Reducing Urban Glow project has not only brought together the council, community members and the tourism industry; it’s also engaged everyone in tangible ways to make a difference and work together towards a common goal.
At its crux, the project seeks to improve the nesting and hatchling success of Bundaberg’s sea turtle population. It consists of a network of sensors that produce a publicly accessible heat map; the data from which also guides changes to disruptive streetlights.
Reducing Urban Glow heat map from 29 January 2019. Updated heat maps like these are currently generated every 5 minutes. // Credit: Bundaberg City Council
What has urban glow got to do with turtles?
The most important factor in sustaining turtle populations is the survival of hatchlings to maturity. Statistics aren’t promising – only 1 in 1000 turtles make it.
Populations are most vulnerable to any kind of human disturbance during nesting season (November – March). Beach erosion, predation (by both native and invasive species) and conflict with human beach use (i.e. night driving, resort furniture) are threats to nesting turtles and their young.
Photo: TEQ / Lauren Bath
The biggest impact, however, comes from a less direct source: artificial light. Because turtles have evolved to locate the sea by observing its brighter horizon, artificial light (a form of light pollution) interferes with their ability to navigate to and from the sea. Hatchlings head instead towards the brighter light of coastal settlements, expending energy needed to reach feeding grounds and encountering hazards such as roads and remaining exposed when predatory birds appear at dawn to feed.
Urban glow spilling onto turtle nesting beaches is one of the few variables which the Bundaberg regional community can directly influence. Bundaberg Regional Council’s Reducing Urban Glow project began in December 2018 and is scheduled to run, throughout the breeding season, until June 2020.
Photo: Nesting turtle returning to the ocean / Bundaberg Regional Council
For this project the council, in conjunction with the Sea Turtle Alliance, applied successfully for Ergon energy to fund the streetlight component. Trial alteration of seventeen of the most disruptive streetlights, close to Oaks, Kelly’s and Archies Beaches, and Elliot Heads Beach, took place in May 2018. Some were moved across the street and others were attached lower on the pole to reduce the light spillage towards the ocean. More than two hundred streetlights are currently in the process of being replaced with energy efficient LEDs – these produce more light for less electricity meaning less lights are required. Ergon energy are also working with the council to identify opportunities and locations for lights which can be dimmed or turned off as required.
Photo: Mon Repos Beach / TEQ
Benefits and how to get involved
The greatest expected benefit of the program is not from changes to streetlights but the heat map’s promotion of more turtle considerate light use by residents and businesses. If you’re visiting Bundaberg, you can get involved by checking whether your accommodation or tour operator:
- Uses minimal outdoor lighting, preferably shaded, and on motion sensors or timers
- Has installed turtle friendly light fixtures which focus light on the ground and on objects requiring illumination, minimising spillage into sky and towards the beach
- Uses blinds or curtains to minimise glow from indoor lighting
- Educates guests on how to avoid turtle disturbance: i.e. No flash photography; dark clothing
Other simple things which can help turtle hatchings survive are:
- Planting vegetation to create light barriers and/or to stabilize sand dunes
- Providing alternative decorations to balloons and alternate carriers to plastic bags – both of which can end up on the beach and in the ocean
- Using red-light torches
- Removing beach furniture at night
- Sticking to small tours and maintaining a safe viewing distance from turtles
Whether you’re traveling to Bundaberg to see the turtles or just to relax on one of the region’s many beaches, make sure you check out the Green Travel Guide for some ECO certified travel inspiration. For more information about the Bundaberg Region and the turtle experiences on offer, check out www.bundabergregion.org/turtles.
[Cover photo: Jewels Lynch – TEQ]