Literature Review for Sea Turtle Policy Memo

Literary Review

Each summer, there are about 20,000 homes rented in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The actions and inactions of these seasonal beachgoers have a significant impact on the local beachfront ecosystems. Their simple act of turning on lights at night is causing the deterioration of sea turtle populations, but the existing literature suggests that public awareness and subsequent regulatory policies can reverse these species’ negative survival trajectory. This literature review addresses three of the key themes necessary in raising this issue’s salience and necessity to enact change. We begin with a summary of our findings on sea turtle behavior in relation to light, then move to light reduction policies that are already in place, and finish with what we can learn from other case studies surrounding sea turtles and light pollution.

In our research, we first needed a firm understanding on the biology of sea turtles and their nesting patterns in order to explore trends related to their threats. James Spotila’s Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation (Spotila, 2004) provides a foundational understanding in this regard. Spotila explains the nesting and hatching process in great detail and emphasizes that the turtles find their way to the sea based on visual cues from light on the horizon. The National Research Council Staff’s Decline of the Sea Turtles: Causes and Prevention (1989) and the National Park Service’s article entitled “Sea Turtles – Cape Hatteras National Seashore” explore the ways human activity threatens the well-being of the species as a whole, such as artificial lighting, automobiles on the sand, and beach equipment left out. Terra Kelly et al.’s Clinical Pathology Reference Intervals (2015) gave a case reference for the loggerhead sea turtles in the United States by explaining their journey as threatened species. All of these sources helped us to understand the sea turtle and its habits, yet only the National Park Service’s article was specific to the species located in Cape Hatteras.

To effectively propose solutions for the issues plaguing sea turtle hatchlings and nests, we had to first understand the current beachfront rules and regulations in place along the Cape Hatteras coast. This knowledge came from sources local to Cape Hatteras, such as the Outer Banks Visitor’s Guide, as well as the National Park Service’s laws and policies regarding Cape Hatteras beaches and wildlife. There are woefully few rules regarding leaving beach equipment out and bonfire safety, and no rules about light pollution. These sources give us insight to the regulations that were not in place that we believe should be implemented, such as stricter rules against leaving equipment on the beach and actions toward removing beachfront artificial lights. Furthermore, we needed an understanding of policies in other states related to light pollution that could be used as inspiration for ways to make local changes. The National Conference of State Legislation’s article “States Shut Out Light Pollution” (2016) lists light pollution policies in other states and describes their effects, giving a groundwork for the possible solutions we propose. However, a limitation of this article is that it is more focused on reducing light pollution for star-gazing purposes and is not specific to sea turtles or coastal communities.

In order to design a policy memo with an efficient approach to solving Cape Hatteras’s light pollution problem, it is important to examine the successes and failures of other light pollution cases. Queensland, Australia has effectively regulated light-reduction policies in the interest of turtle species since 2008. One study of that case, “Potential Applicability of Persuasive Communication to Light-Glow Reduction Efforts: A Case Study of Marine Turtle Conservation,” concludes that there were two value-laden statements that were most persuasive in garnering support for light-reduction legislation. Depending on people’s personal values, it was either more effective to state artificial light-reduction’s benefits to sea turtle populations or to highlight its economic benefits. A second study of the Queensland case, “Balancing Artificial Light at Night with Turtle Conservation? Coastal Community Engagement with Light-Glow Reduction,” determined that most citizens in areas with light regulations comprehended the legislation’s importance, yet did not comply with light-reduction rules. Therefore, this source recommends regulating non-citizen establishments such as streetlights or commercial businesses. The Queensland findings could potentially help us persuade Cape Hatteras’s citizens and enact successful regulations, but relevance could be limited because Australian citizen perceptions of environmental issues may not be applicable to the citizens of Cape Hatteras.

Some of Florida’s coastal areas have successfully placed regulations on artificial night lighting, and a technical report by the Florida Marine Research Institute comprehensively analyzes a wide variety of technical options to reduce light pollution. This source also agrees with the Queensland studies by addressing the importance of public support. However, it differs by largely focusing on available technologies that produce less light. Although this source is limited in its suggestions for engaging the public, its technology information– that the Queensland sources lack– is extremely interesting. Our case sources appear to balance each other out, and in conjunction with one another, could help formulate an ideal strategy for Cape Hatteras.

We want to amend Cape Hatteras beach policy to preserve sea turtle species, and therefore the ecosystems they contribute to, for future generations to appreciate. We have examined the flaws and limitations of current Cape Hatteras beach policies that lack sufficient consideration for these species’ well-being. Therefore we are basing our new policies on scientific studies where successful action was taken against the issue of sea turtle population decline. With this knowledge basis, hopefully Cape Hatteras can introduce successful light regulations as well as learn from the mistakes in other similar cases.


On our honor we have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, we have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and we are unaware of any violation of the Honor Code by others.



Kamrowski, Ruth L., Stephen G. Sutton, Renae C. Tobin, and Mark Hamann. 2014. “Potential Applicability of Persuasive Communication to Light-Glow Reduction Efforts: A Case Study of Marine Turtle Conservation.” Environmental Management; New York 54(3): 583–95.

Kamrowski, Ruth L., Stephen G. Sutton, Renae C. Tobin, and Mark Hamann. 2015. “Balancing Artificial Light at Night with Turtle Conservation? Coastal Community Engagement with Light-Glow Reduction.” Environmental Conservation; Cambridge 42(2): 171–81.

Kelly, Terra R. et al. 2015. “Clinical Pathology Reference Intervals for an In-Water Population of Juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta Caretta) in Core Sound, North Carolina, USA: E0115739.” PLoS ONE 10(3). (February 8, 2018).

“Laws & Policies – Cape Hatteras National Seashore” National Parks Service. (February 28, 2018).

Martin, R. Erik, Blair E. Witherington. 2000. “Understanding, Assessing, and Resolving Light-Pollution Problems on Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches.” Florida Marine Research Institute Technical Report TR-2. 74 p. (February 5, 2018).

National Research Council Staff. 1989. Decline of the Sea Turtles: Causes and Prevention. Washington, United States: National Academies Press. (February 6, 2018).

“Outer Banks Beach Guidelines” Outer Banks Visitors Guide. (February 7, 2018).

“Sea Turtles – Cape Hatteras National Seashore (U.S. National Park Service).” (February 6, 2018).

Spotila, James. 2004. Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

“States Shut Out Light Pollution.” National Conference of State Legislatures.  (February 8, 2018).

“The Vacation Rental Scene.” Outer Banks Guide. (March 29, 2018).

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