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A Passion for Protection: How Chandra Wright— and Ketra — Are Saving Alabama’s Sea Turtles

In addition to creating the world’s most advanced lighting technology, another Ketra core commitment is fostering a connection with the natural world. Ketra’s 2020 Earth day feature explored both of these themes and highlighted how light is used at a stunning eco-tourism resort on the Alabama Coast to carry out its core mission of sustainability. Ketra recently had the opportunity to learn even more about the programs at the Lodge at Gulf State Park as well as the woman behind it — the Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives, Chandra Wright.

Turtle tracks in the Lodge's lobby"Turtle Tracks" by artists April Hopkins and Zach DePolo sits in the Lodge's lobby. Photo courtesy: Colette Boehm. 

 

1. Can you describe your role as the Director of Environmental & Educational Initiatives at the Lodge at Gulf State Park?

No other hotel that I know of has this position! It was really created because of the uniqueness of this project. There were several certifications The Lodge was going for, such as LEED and SITES, so we knew that educating visitors would be a huge part of what we do here. For example, the Interpretive Center on the property is pursuing the full Living Building Challenge, which once achieved, The Center will be the first building in Alabama and one of only about 25 buildings in the world to have earned this certification.

The Interpretive Center at Gulf State Park The Interpretive Center at Gulf State Park. Photo courtesy: Gulf State Park. 

 

2. What types of education happen at The Lodge?

We offer education about the facilities and the park itself, best practices for running a sustainable hospitality space and details about the 9 different ecosystems found in the park. There’s also a Learning Campus where we’re able to work with environmental partners to educate school groups and visitors alike.

We also help guests at the main Lodge understand how to best protect all the wildlife in our shared space. I think anyone’s first instinct when coming across a cool sea turtle on the beach at night is to want to take a picture. Unfortunately, phone camera flashes and flashlights can blind a mother turtle trying to nest, and she'll go back into the water without laying her eggs. Sometimes she’ll try again, but she might also just drop the eggs in the Gulf if disturbed — and we lose those eggs. To mitigate this risk, we offer red flashlight filters to guests at the front desk to make the light less distracting to the turtles and also teach them about the importance of not disturbing the nesting process.

Human development and the artificial light that comes with it is a huge problem for the turtles, but with a little thoughtfulness and commitment, humans can also be part of the solution.

Chandra Wright
Director of Environmental & Educational Initiatives, The Lodge at Gulf State Park

 

3. How did you get here? Tell us about your journey to Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

I was an Air Force brat, so though both my parents were from Alabama, I was born in California and moved around a lot as a child. Our family eventually moved back to central Alabama and I stayed there as an adult. I decided to get SCUBA certified a few years back and soon found I was spending all the time I could on the coast, so I decided to just move here in 2008. Just two years later, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill wreaked havoc on the Gulf. When I moved I was actually a civil lawyer, doing standard casework, but the oil spill was a personal wake up call for me to find work that had more to do with environmental stewardship. That led me to my current role at the Lodge, and also my work volunteering to save the sea turtles with Share the Beach.

 

4. Speaking of the sea turtles, can you share more about them and why they’re threatened?

Worldwide, there are seven species of sea turtles, and here in the Gulf we see five of them. The main species we see on the Alabama Gulf Coast is the Loggerhead, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. One of the reasons they’re threatened is the loss of nesting habitat due to an increase in oceanfront building. Loggerheads nest and hatch at night, which means they’re easily distracted and disoriented by the bright white lights coming from seaside homes or businesses — baby turtles are counting on the moon’s reflection on the breaking waves to guide them safely back into the ocean. Before a strong volunteer network existed, locals would find baby sea turtles on roads or even in hotel swimming pools. It was clear that we needed to organize to protect them.

TurtlesblogBaby Loggerhead sea turtles on an Alabama beach. Photo courtesy: Chandra Wright. 

 

These sea turtles also simply have hard lives, with the odds stacked against them. About 1 in every 1,000 babies that safely make it from the beach to the ocean will survive to adulthood. That means that of the estimated 3,597 baby turtles that made it to the ocean from Alabama beaches last year, only 3-4 will live to have babies of their own. Rescue groups are hoping to see those numbers change for the better, both by their direct work with the turtles and by educating oceanfront property owners about wildlife-friendly lighting — like the Ketra lamps installed by AMA Lighting  at The Lodge at Gulf State Park that are helping the turtles safely nest on our shores.

That’s why it’s so great to have the Ketra lights here at the Lodge— we’re able to have this incredible property as an example to point to and say 'See? If this large commercial property was able to install mindful lighting, you can too'.

Chandra Wright
Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives, The Lodge at Gulf State Park

5. Tell us about your work with one of these organizations, Share the Beach.

Starting at sunrise on May 1st, some of the 400 volunteers with Share the Beach will start patrolling Alabama’s beaches looking for tracks that mother sea turtles have left in the night. First, we determine if the tracks lead to a nest— If we find one, we mark it so that we can protect and monitor the area. It takes anywhere from 55-75 days for the eggs to incubate, so we’ll check on it daily while looking for more tracks. When ready for hatching, volunteers watch over the baby turtles and make sure that they get back to the ocean safely.

TurtleeggsSea turtle egg shells after a successful nesting season. Photo courtesy: Chandra Wright. 

 

Beyond patrolling the beaches, we also help educate the community about how they can be sea turtle friendly on the beach, who to call if you see a turtle nest (866-SEA-TURTLE in Alabama), and how bad beachfront lighting really does impact them. That’s why it’s so great to have the Ketra lights here at the Lodge— we’re able to have this incredible property as an example to point to and say “See? If this large commercial property was able to install mindful lighting, you can too”.

OutdoorcomparisonHarsh artificial lighting at another property and the warm Ketra LEDs at The Lodge at Gulf State Park. Photo courtesy: Chandra Wright. 

 

6. For people who don’t live on the coast— is there any way they can help?

Yes! You can adopt a sea turtle nest through Share the Beach or donate to local organizations in your area that are working to teach others about sea turtles and ocean life. Professionals and volunteers are working around the country to educate their communities and protect nesting beaches— it’s very heartening. Human development and the artificial light that comes with it is a huge problem for the turtles, but with a little thoughtfulness and commitment, humans can also be part of the solution.

Has the effort to save the sea turtles on the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast captured your interest — or your heart? Read more about the Lodge at Gulf State Park in an inspiring case study, check out AMA Lighting, who installed The Lodge's Ketra light, or learn about Alabama’s Share the Beach initiative here.  

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