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The Illuminating Way One Small Australian City Is Saving Sea Turtles

Turning off your lights can save more than just money.

11/11/2017 7:21 AM AEDT | Updated 11/11/2017 7:21 AM AEDT
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"It's estimated that just one in a thousand hatchlings survives to become an adult sea turtle, and light pollution plays a significant role in these poor numbers."

When was the last time you thought about how your lights at home impact the environment?

For most of us, the answer to that might be never -- the only consideration is the electricity bill at the end of the month. However, for some communities in Australia, turning lights off can be a matter of life and death for local marine life.

People are often surprised to hear that Disney has a conservation arm. However, the roots of Disney's commitment to conservation go all the way back to Walt, who grew up on a farm and loved nature. All his first animations were animals, and the True-Life Adventure series were some of the first high quality nature documentaries many people got to see and inspired many American conservationists.

That passion for conservation has continued through the company ever since, and is what brought me to Australia to encourage community action to protect the critically endangered sea turtle population in Bundaberg, Queensland.

We can all make sure the mark we're leaving on the planet is a positive one, and, if nothing else, turning off that light that shines in your neighbour's window might win you a new friend.

It's estimated that just one in a thousand hatchlings survives to become an adult sea turtle, and light pollution plays a significant role in these poor numbers.

Hatchling turtles rely on the light of the starry sky over the water to find their way to the ocean, but what happens if there are other lights distracting them -- say, the glow from a city? That's exactly what's happening in Bundaberg, and it's this challenge that together we're working to solve.

In Florida, we're facing similar problems. Working closely with the turtles, I've experienced first-hand the devastation that can occur when someone quite innocently, and accidentally, leaves a light on overnight during hatching season. The hatchlings become disoriented, and many will never find their way to the safety of the ocean.

Our response was to work with the community, to encourage people to think about how they use light. It doesn't have to just be about the turtles, or even the environment, but what light is doing and what its purpose is -- is it glaring into your neighbour's window? Is it wasting energy? Is there actually any reason for it to be there?

It's been quite a journey to make this change happen -- we've been working on this challenge since the 1980s. It's taken time, but the community has rallied. Lights are being turned off in key areas, roadway lighting has been replaced with more sensible solutions and we've seen dramatic results.

Survival rates for our turtles have increased, and through tracking we know that the turtles that are coming back to our beaches to nest now are the same ones that hatched here 30 years ago.

It's not an easy fix -- it's a challenge that requires a multifaceted solution. Earlier this year Greenfleet planted 80,000 trees in the Barolin Nature Reserve, which will one day grow into a 'green curtain' to help shield the light. In the meantime, we invite everyone in the community to get involved and protect the future of these animals.

In Bundaberg, this is about the turtles. But no matter where you live, there are simple actions you can take that can make a significant, positive impact on the world around you.

We can all make sure the mark we're leaving on the planet is a positive one, and, if nothing else, turning off that light that shines in your neighbour's window might win you a new friend.

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