Kiawah Conservancy’s Position Statement on Pre-Dawn Construction on or near Kiawah Island’s Beach

May 19, 2022

The Issue and Current Understanding

Loggerhead sea turtles are the most prevalent nesting sea turtle found on Kiawah Island. They are also South Carolina’s state reptile and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Loggerhead nesting in South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina comprises the Northern Recovery Unit, which is the second largest loggerhead nesting aggregation in the Northwest Atlantic.

Kiawah Island has been fortunate to have had research and volunteer efforts conducted on its nesting sea turtles for over 43 years. Currently research and volunteer efforts on Kiawah Island are overseen by the Town of Kiawah Island (TOKI) wildlife biologist, Jim Jordan (MS Wildlife Ecology and Management, University of Georgia), Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol permit holder and volunteer coordinator, Lynne Sager, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sea turtle nesting occurs on Kiawah’s beach from May to mid-August when loggerheads come ashore to deposit their eggs. Those eggs begin to hatch from July through the end of October. Both nesting sea turtles and hatchlings use natural celestial light to navigate from the nest to the ocean. If an artificial light source on or near the beach is brighter than the natural light, sea turtles will become disoriented and head toward it causing them to exhaust valuable, limited energy and become more susceptible to nocturnal predators and desiccation. Artificial lighting has been found to reduce the nesting success of loggerhead sea turtles by 20%.* Enforcement of preventive measures and light mitigation strategies are key aspects of sea turtle conservation efforts.

Community Discussion and Recommendations

The TOKI Beach Lighting Ordinance (Code 1993, § 16-101; Ord. No. 2001-2, 3-13-2001; Ord. No. 2019-01, § 2, 3-5-2019) was established to regulate sources of artificial light for the protection of sea turtles. It defines artificial light as any source of light emanating from a man made device, including but not limited to, incandescent, mercury vapor, metal halide, sodium lamps, flashlights, spotlights, street lights, vehicular lights, construction or security lights. It states “It is the policy of the Town of Kiawah Island that no artificial light shall illuminate any area of the beaches of Kiawah Island and that no exterior point source of artificial light shall be visible from the beach.” In addition it notes that, “Temporary lights at construction sites shall not be mounted more than fifteen (15) feet above the ground. Illumination from the lights shall not spread beyond the boundary of the property being developed, and in no case shall those lights illuminate the beach or shall the point source of light be visible from the beach.” And that, “Lights shall be turned off from 9:00 p.m. until dawn during the period of May 1 to October 31 of each year.”

According to an email, dated Wednesday, May 18, 2022, from TOKI regarding concrete pours for the Cape Condominiums, “…Trident Construction is adjusting its start time from 7 a.m. and will start the pouring at 4 a.m., Monday through Friday.”

Kiawah Conservancy Position

The Kiawah Conservancy (Conservancy) has long supported a balance of nature and development on Kiawah Island. We feel that concrete pouring or other beachfront construction beginning prior to sunrise (approximately 6:15 a.m. for the week in question)
• Negatively impacts nesting sea turtles.
• Is not in compliance with the TOKI beach lighting ordinance.
• Is not in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
• Negatively impacts the ecological health of Kiawah Island.

Maintaining the balance between nature and development contributes to the resilience of our Island community. Historically, the Conservancy’s role is, in part, to educate residents and visitors about preserving wildlife and the habitats in which they live. The Conservancy is an avid supporter of sea turtle conservation and of the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol’s efforts in this area. The Conservancy is concerned with the negative impact to the sea turtle population that is likely to arise if pre-dawn concrete pouring and/or construction are allowed on or near Kiawah’s beach. We strongly encourage TOKI to revise concrete pour times for The Cape project and any future beachfront projects to be in-line with the TOKI beach lighting ordinance and recommend post-dawn start times for the benefit of Kiawah’s nesting sea turtles.

* Silva et al. 2017 Article (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134417302543)

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