The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Condo can prune sea grapes — but must protect turtles

By Sallie James

    A beachside condominium can prune native sea grape trees that are obstructing ocean views if special measures are taken to protect nesting sea turtles, the city’s Environmental Advisory Board has decided.
    The Sea Ranch Club of Boca, at 4301 N. Ocean Blvd., must shield or screen lights that are exposed when the vegetation is trimmed, and require condo owners to tint or cover windows that might expose turtle hatchlings to additional lighting, according to a report by Boca’s senior environmental officer, Nora Fosman.
    The 8- to 10-inch leaves of the sea grape help shield sea turtles from the invasive artificial light of beach development. The shrub’s sprawling structure also stabilizes sand dunes, helping to prevent erosion.
    The condo can prune about 700 feet of sea grapes, but must leave 100 feet untouched, according to Chrissy Biagiotti, Boca’s communications and marketing manager. The 16-foot-tall sea grapes located along the eastern side of State Road A1A would be trimmed to 4 feet in height.
    A 200-foot-wide viewing corridor is planned on the north, and a 500-foot-wide corridor is planned on the south, Fosman’s report said.
    The condo would be prohibited from trimming any sea grapes located within 10 feet of an existing sea turtle nest.
    It is not the first time such projects have been approved. The Ocean Club condominium project was completed in November 2009; the Spanish River Park project was completed in June 2012; and the Boca Raton Yacht and Racquet Club project was completed in March 2014.
    A permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is required because trimming can increase lighting levels on beaches and disorient hatchlings.
    Keen attention must be paid to the effect on nesting sea turtles, because Boca has the highest sea turtle nesting density of any urban area in the country, Fosman’s report said.
    According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, hatchlings can become disoriented by lighting  near the beach and wander inland, where they often die when they are run over, become dehydrated or are eaten by predators.
    Scientists believe turtle hatchlings have a natural instinct that propels them in the direction of the brightest light, which would normally be moonlight reflecting off the ocean, the Sea Turtle Conservancy said. Artificial lights often draw the hatchlings inland, where they are killed.

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