Turtle Talk: The Dark Side


Read at your own risk. I’m going to try to convince you to come over to the dark side.

Not the evil space-lord dark side, and not Pink Floyd’s dark side of the moon.

No, we are going to learn about the dark side of the beach.

When most people think of the Beaches of South Walton, they visualize bright sunlight sparkling off blinding white sand. They think of turquoise water and pastel beach houses lined up along Highway 30A.

But when the sun goes down, things get a little darker.

Actually, the beach should get a whole lot darker. Walton County has an ordinance in place that requires all buildings within 750 feet from the shore to maintain a dark side. But this dark side is for a good cause. It’s to keep our sea turtles safe.

Tiki torches and strings of party lights certainly add a ambiance to beach life, but they can wreak havoc on the poor turtles.

Here’s why…

First of all, mama turtles coming ashore to nest can get disoriented. Crawling across the deep, soft sand is exhausting. So imagine how confusing it might be for a tired turtle, after laying her eggs, to search for open water and starlight only to be distracted by the twinkling lights on the deck of a nearby restaurant or beach house.

But things get even more harrowing a couple of months later when the brand new hatchlings dig their way out of their nest to take their first breaths of fresh salt air. They sniff the wind and then look for mother ocean.

But all those lights.

There might be a dinner party going on at one house on the beach, lights blazing. So the little guys mistake the lights for stars reflecting off the Gulf.

Baby turtles can fall prey to birds, crabs, even cars if they get off track for too long. Time is so important for the baby sea turtles to make it from nest to water. If the dwellings along the beach cause even a moment’s confusion, the results can be devastating.

This is why Walton County instituted a Wildlife Lighting Ordinance. It states that all buildings on the beach must comply with some basic rules to keep the beaches dark.

For example, all unnecessary lights must be turned off at night. Residents should close all blinds and curtains that face the Gulf. And lights should be shielded or angled downward.

The basic rule of thumb is that if you can see the light from the beach, then turn it off or angle it away.

And please avoid flashlights and torches on the beach at night. It might be a fun activity for the kids, but the harm it can cause really isn’t worth it. Go to one of the numerous green spaces along 30A like Seaside, Gulf Place, or Rosemary Beach to play flashlight tag.

Turtle nesting season is from May to October, but the Friends of South Walton Sea Turtles urge everyone to keep those lights off all year round. All of our sea life and beach critters would appreciate living by natural moonlight and starlight.

So living on the dark side doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I’ve heard there are cookies there.

By Elaine Parrett

For more details on Walton County’s Wildlife Lighting Ordinance, visit:


If you have a rental property on the beach, or if you’re a visitor to our beaches, check out these flyers: