Jekyll Island Hotels are violating Sea Turtle Ordinances

| July 6, 2015

westin jekyll island

BRUNSWICK — Sea turtles are nesting on Jekyll Island’s beaches in what could be record numbers this season except for in one critical spot, the Westin Hotel on the beachfront.

With a lot of the nesting season to go, there have been 111 nests counted on the island’s beaches, but only one in front of the newly opened Westin. Historical data compiled by the watchdog group the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island revealed that eight nests a year generally would be found in that mid-island area, according to the organization’s co-director, David Egan.

Egan pins the apparent slowdown on the Westin’s 10 issues of noncompliance uncovered in a May 19 lighting survey conducted by Georgia Department of Natural Resources Senior Wildlife Biologist Mark Dodd and Jekyll Island Conservation Director Ben Carswell.

The Westin topped the list of violators, but it wasn’t alone. It was followed by the Holiday Inn with eight, the Days Inn with five and the Beach Club with two. Several facilities operated by the Jekyll Island Authority, the board that manages and markets the state-owned island, also made the list.

Ironically, the authority uses sea turtles in its marketing and is home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. When the center releases rehabbed sea turtles, as it did Thursday, hundreds of spectators stand outside a roped off area to watch and photograph them.

“The height of the Westin, the amount of glass and the amount of light and its closeness to the beach make in front of the Westin an unfriendly zone for nesting,” Egan said.

The Westin opened in April as the turtle nesting season was getting under way. It has previously drawn complaints from Egan’s organization for hauling chairs onto the beach in a trailer pulled by a motorized vehicle, the first time a commercial enterprise has been allowed to do so. That practice is in a trial phase until October and will be reviewed by the DNR before any future permits are issued.

The Westin’s violations include light leaking from windows, partially shielded fixtures, individual room balcony lights, pool, tree and arbor lighting and gas lanterns.

The island’s senior marketing director, Meggan Hood, said Carswell sent letters to all of the violators and the authority.

“Right now, all are working to get back into compliance,” she said. “There’s no deadline because it’s very complex.”

The ordinance, however, says otherwise, Dodd said.

According to the ordinance, noncompliance violations must be corrected within 10 days of notification with failure to do so potentially resulting in forfeiture of the lease.

Dodd said it is particularly crucial at this time of year, as turtles continue to come in from the sea to nest and eggs laid early in the season are about to hatch.

“There are two concerns,” he said. “Sea turtles nest in lower density where there are artificial lights, and it affects the sea-finding ability of hatchlings. They go to the lightest point on the horizon and they also orient away from the dark silhouette of dune structures or the treeline.”

Dodd said he identified nine of the 10 potential problem areas in the pre-construction phase of the hotel but his recommendations were not acted upon.

But Hood said it falls to the authority to enforce the ordinance, and it is satisfied with the progress being made.

“They’ve all been very responsive,” she said.

Florida Times Union

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