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Dark Sky Compliant Outdoor Lighting on the Beaches of North Carolina: Your Quick Guide

Turtle season is here! From May 1st through October 31st it is turtle nesting season on the North Carolina coast. From North Topsail Beach to Sunset Beach and everywhere in between, locals and tourists alike are hoping to spot a sea turtle making its way ashore to build a nest. Within 50-70 days, these eggs will hatch, and we’ll begin watching for turtle hatchlings to make their way out to the ocean safely.

Sea Turtles Love the Dark

Lighting affects the sea turtle nesting and hatching process from start to finish. If there are too many lights on the beach, sea turtles will be too scared to come ashore to lay their eggs. According to, when the eggs hatch, the baby turtles wait for the sand to cool indicating night time for their treacherous trip back out to the ocean. Hatchlings use several cues to find their way including the slope of the beach, white wave crests, and the natural light of the ocean horizon. In an effort to help baby sea turtles make it safely, it is important to keep lights off the beach from May – October. It is also important to keep lights near the beach from misleading the turtles in the wrong direction. This is where dark sky compliant lighting comes into play.

Turtle Friendly Outdoor Lighting Guidelines

Oak Island and Surf City even have Sea Turtle protection ordinances that dictate lighting rules to help protect the animals. While not every NC beach has these ordinances, it is widely understood that those who live near or have businesses on the water should follow their basic principles. Here is what the Oak Island turtle protection lighting ordinance dictates:

• No artificial light shall directly or indirectly illuminate the town’s ocean beach.
• Outdoor lighting within 300-feet of the primary dune should follow the below dark sky guidelines.
• Streetlights are required to be cutoff fixtures that shield light from pointing up, which would illuminate the night sky.
• Colored lenses may be used to modify lights that can’t be aimed landward or downward to not disrupt hatchlings.
• Wall-mounted light fixtures shall be fitted with shields to contain the light landward side of the primary dune.
• Motion sensor flood lights for security are permitted and shall be aimed in a manner to contain light on the landward side of the primary dune.
• Where possible any source of light within the 300-foot zone of the primary dune must not be visible from the seaward side.

The basic concept of dark sky compliance is to avoid any lighting that will illuminate the night sky. For the purpose of turtle nesting season, it is as equally important to not illuminate the beach or have any artificial lighting visible from the beach.

At Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Wilmington, we custom design outdoor lighting packages that are fully compliant turtle-safe lighting and dark sky compliant. Check your town’s website or Municode for details of your lighting ordinance. Ordinances often require permits and inspections which we will be happy to handle for you.

If you live on Figure Eight Island, Topsail Island, Surf City, Oak Island, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Fort Fisher, Holden Beach, Sunset Beach, or Ocean Isle Beach trust us with taking the time and care to make sure your lighting is not interrupting turtle nesting or the hatchlings making their way back out to sea. Call today (910) 356-8203

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