Light Pollution – Sanibel Island, FL

Initially outdoor light ordinances were adopted by communities with research observatories at the urging of astronomers. But star-gazing is not the only reason for regulating night lighting. Many of Florida’s oceanfront communities have adopted lighting codes to protect the nesting sea turtles along beaches. Sea turtle hatchlings instinctively head toward light. Before electric lighting, bioluminescence and the reflection of the moon on the water made the ocean brighter than the land. But due to light pollution, hatchlings often head inland. The strict limits on street lighting on Sanibel Island aim to remedy the imbalance between the unnatural brightness of the shoreline and the natural bioluminescence of the sea.

Below is Sanibel Island’s zoning statutes pertaining to outdoor lighting as of 2009. Click here for the current full text of Sanibel’s outdoor lighting ordinances.

The International Dark-Sky Association is the primary on-line resource for light pollution information.




Sec. 126-996.  Definitions.
The following words, terms and phrases when used in this division, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:
  • Ambient light  means light not originating from the site, such as moonlight.
  • Artificial light or artificial lighting  means the light emanating from any manmade device.
  • “Bug” type bulb  means any yellow light bulb specifically designed to reduce the attraction of insects to the light.
  • Cumulatively illuminated  means illuminated by numerous artificial light sources.
  • Direct light  means light emitted directly from the lamp, off of the reflector or reflector diffuser, or through the refractor or diffuser lens, of a luminaire.
  • Fixture  means the assembly that houses the lamp or lamps and can include all or some of the following parts: A housing, a mounting bracket or pole socket, a lamp holder, a ballast, a reflector or mirror, and/or a refractor or lens.
  • Flood or spot light  means any light fixture or lamp that incorporates a reflector or a refractor to concentrate the light output into a directed beam.
  • Full cutoff fixture  means a luminaire that does not emit any light, either directly or by reflection or diffusion, above a horizontal plane running through the lowest part of the fixture.
  • Glare  means light emitting from a luminaire that interferes with visibility.
  • Ground-level barrier  means any vegetation, natural feature or artificial structure rising from the ground which prevents beachfront lighting from shining directly onto the beach-dune system.
  • Hatchling  means any species of marine turtle, within or outside of a nest, that has recently hatched from an egg.
  • Indirect light  means direct light that has been reflected or has scattered off of other surfaces.
  • Lamp  means the component of a luminaire that produces the actual light.
  • Light trespass  means light from an artificial light source that is intruding into an area where it does not belong, such as an adjoining or nearby property, or the beach or dune.
  • Luminaire  means a complete lighting system, including a lamp or lamps and a fixture.
  • Marine turtle  means any marine-dwelling reptile of the families Cheloniidae or Dermochelyidae found in state waters or using the beach as nesting habitat, including the species: Caretta caretta (loggerhead), Chelonia mydas (green), Dermochelys coriacea (leatherback), Eretmochelys imbricata (hawksbill), and Lepidochelys kempi (Kemp’s ridley).
  • Marine turtle nesting season  means the period from May 1 through October 31 of each year.
  • Nest  means an area where marine turtle eggs have been naturally deposited or subsequently relocated.
  • Outdoor lighting  means the nighttime illumination of an outside area or object by any fixed luminaire. Vehicle lights and flashlights are not included in this definition.
  • Point source of light  means any artificial light or lighting that directly radiates visible light.
  • Recessed luminaire  means a luminaire recessed into an outdoor ceiling or canopy so that its bottom is flush with the underside of the structure.
  • Skyglow  means illumination of the sky from artificial sources.
  • Tinted glass  means any glass treated to achieve an industry-approved, inside-to-outside light transmittance value of 45 percent or less. Such transmittance is limited to the visible spectrum (400 to 700 nanometers) and is measured as the percentage of light that is transmitted through the glass.
  • Uplighting  means any luminaire that directly or indirectly projects light above a horizontal plane passing through its lowest point.
  • Wallpacks  means luminaires placed along the outer walls of buildings. See illustrations.
(Ord. No. 97-08, § 3, 5-6-1997; Ord. No. 00-10, § 1, 6-6-2000)
Cross references: Definitions generally, § 1-2.


Sec. 126-997.  Outdoor lighting generally.
(a)   Purpose and intent.  The purpose of this section is to set outdoor lighting standards that will minimize glare, light trespass, and skyglow; conserve energy while maintaining nighttime safety, security, and productivity; protect the privacy of residents; minimize disturbance of wildlife; enhance the ambiance of the community; and ensure optimal viewing of spectacular night skies above Sanibel.
It is the intent of this section that all luminaires in the city be brought into compliance with the standards of this section in accordance with the timetable established in subsection (e).
To encourage the replacement of nonconforming outdoor lights, the issuance of a development permit, solely for outdoor lights, does not trigger compliance with code requirements unrelated to outdoor lighting.
Further, the issuance of a development permit for any purpose other than outdoor lighting will not require the replacement or removal of existing non-conforming outdoor lighting as a condition of authorizing such development permit, except in accordance with the timetable in subsection (e).
(b)   Applicability. All new luminaires, regardless of whether a development permit is required, must comply with the standards of this section.
(1)   All land uses.  A development permit is required to add or replace outdoor lights in the Gulf Beach or Bay Beach zones.
(2)   Single family and duplex dwelling units located on an individual lot.  No development permit is required to reposition, replace or add outdoor lights in accordance with the standards of this section; however, an electrical permit may be required depending on the extent of the work.
(3)   Other residential uses, including motels, cottages and other resort housing (regardless of structure type) and non-residential land uses.  A development permit is required to add, reposition, or replace outdoor lights mounted on poles higher than ten feet above the ground. In all other cases, no permit is required to add, reposition, or replace outdoor lights in accordance with the standards of this section.
(c)   Standards. In addition to the standards for outdoor lights established in this subsection, there are standards for dock lighting in sections 126-888 et seq. and 126-96.
Minimum setback standards and height limitations for outdoor lights are provided in sections 126-852 and 126-853.
(1)   All exterior lighting shall be designed and installed to prevent glare and light trespass. Light shall not be allowed to cause glare affecting motorists, bicyclists, or other users of roads, driveways, and bicycle paths. Light shall not trespass over property lines.
Only outdoor lights compliant with the standards of sections 126-998 and 126-999 and with the standards of sections 126-96 (for docks in the Bay Beach Zone) and 126-152 (for replacement lighting fixtures seaward of the 1974 Coastal Construction Control Line) are permitted in the Gulf Beach and Bay Beach zones.
(2)   Full cutoff fixtures must be used. Uplighting is prohibited. All outdoor lighting, including display, sign, building, parking lot, and aesthetic lighting, must use full cutoff fixtures, which shine light downward.
(3)   Functional equivalents allowed. Lights that are properly installed in an architectural space (such as under a porch roof or a roof overhang) which provides the functional equivalence of a full cutoff fixture, need not use full cutoff fixtures.
(4)   The illustrations contained in Appendix A to this section are intended to provide examples of fixtures and fixture positioning that comply (and that do not comply) with these standards, and are part of these regulations.
(5)   Mercury vapor lighting is prohibited. High pressure sodium lighting is permitted and encouraged.
(6)   Street lighting is, in general, inconsistent with Sanibel’s rural character. No street lights shall be installed or maintained on private streets, roads, and rights-of-way.
(7)   In residential settings, motion-detecting security lighting is permitted and encouraged in order to maximize safety, minimize overall illumination, and conserve energy.
(8)   Parking lot lights for nonresidential land uses shall, individually and in aggregation with other outdoor lights, not exceed a maximum site illumination of ten footcandles, measured at two feet above ground level.
(d)   Exemptions. The following are exempt from the requirements of this section:
(1)   All temporary emergency lighting needed by the police or fire departments or other emergency services, as well as all vehicular luminaires.
(2)   Lighting for public streets, roads, and rights-of-way, except that such lighting shall be reviewed in accordance with section 78-7, applying the policies set forth in Ordinance No. 00-10, as well as general policy 9 in the Plan for Scenic Preservation of the Sanibel Plan: “In order to maintain the dark sky of this nonurban community, minimize outdoor lighting.”
(3)   All hazard warning luminaires required by federal or state regulatory agencies are exempt from the requirements of this subsection. Unless otherwise mandated, all luminaires used must be yellow/amber and must be shown to be as close as possible to the federally or state required minimum lumen output requirement for the specific task.
(4)   Holiday lighting, as specified in subsection 106-3(13).
(5)   The Sanibel Lighthouse light.
(e)   Nonconforming luminaires. The following categories of outdoor lights must be brought into compliance with the standards of this section in accordance with the timetable provided.
(1)   Upon the effective date of Ordinance No. 00-10, all luminaires that direct light toward streets, bicycle paths, or parking lots that cause glare to motorists or cyclists shall be either shielded or redirected so that the luminaires do not continue to cause a potential hazard.
(2)   All luminaires, not identified in paragraph (1) above, shall be permitted to remain until January 1, 2015. By this date, all outdoor lights shall be brought into compliance with the standards of this section.
However, any luminaire that replaces a lawfully existing luminaire, or any lawfully existing luminaire that is moved, must meet the standards of this section.
(Ord. No. 85-26, § 1(I.E.14), 11-27-1985; Ord. No. 97-08, § 3, 5-6-1997; Ord. No. 00-10, § 2, 6-6-2000)


Sec. 126-998.  Beach walkover lighting.
The lighting of beach walkovers is permitted seaward of the coastal construction control line but only mushroom-type light fixtures, which direct the light downward, shall be permitted. Such lighting shall also meet the following requirements:
(1)   Such fixtures shall be installed at least 25 feet apart and not more than one foot above the surface of the walkover.
(2)   Illumination shall be limited to 25 watts through the use of a “bug” type bulb.
(Ord. No. 85-26, § 1(I.E.14), 11-27-1985)


Sec. 126-999.  Beachfront lighting for marine turtle protection–Newly installed artificial lighting sources.
Newly installed artificial light sources shall comply with the following conditions:
(1)   Artificial light fixtures shall be designed and positioned so that:
a.   The point source of light or any reflective surface of the light fixture is not directly visible from the beach;
b.   Areas seaward of a frontal, or primary dune are not directly, indirectly, or cumulatively illuminated.
(2)   Exterior artificial light fixtures within direct line of sight of the beach shall be completely shielded downlight-only fixtures, or recessed fixtures having low wattage, i.e., 25 watts or less, with “bug” type bulbs and nonreflective interior surfaces. other fixtures that have appropriate shields, louvers, or cut-off features may also be used if they are in compliance with subsections (1)a and b of this section.
(3)   Floodlights, uplights, or spotlights that are directly visible from the beach, or which indirectly or cumulatively illuminate the beach, shall not be used.
(4)   Only low-intensity lighting shall be used in parking areas within line of sight of the beach. Such lighting shall be:
a.   Set on a base which raises the source of light no higher than 48 inches off the ground; and
b.   Positioned or shielded so that the light is cast downward and the source of light or any reflective surface of the light fixture is not visible from the beach and does not directly, indirectly, or cumulatively illuminate the beach.
(5)   Parking areas and roadways, including any paved or unpaved areas upon which motorized vehicles will park or operate, shall be designed and located to prevent vehicular headlights from directly or indirectly illuminating the beach.
(6)   Vehicular lighting, parking area lighting, and roadway lighting shall be shielded from, the beach through the use of ground-level barriers. Ground-level barriers must not interfere with marine turtle nesting or hatchling emergence, or cause short-term or long-term damage to the beach/dune system.
(7)   Tinted glass shall be installed on all windows and glass doors of single-story or multistory structures within line of sight of the beach.
(Ord. No. 97-08, § 3, 5-6-1997)


Sec. 126-1000.  Same–Existing artificial lighting sources.
Existing artificial lighting sources shall, within 60 days after adoption of the ordinance from which this division is derived, comply with all of the following standards:
(1)   Existing artificial light fixtures shall be repositioned, modified, or removed so that:
a.   The point source of light or any reflective surface of the light fixture is not directly visible from the beach; and
b.   Areas seaward of a frontal or primary dune are not directly, indirectly, or cumulatively illuminated.
(2)   The negative effects of existing exterior artificial lighting shall be eliminated by taking such of the following measures as may be applicable:
a.   Repositioning fixtures so that the point source of light or any reflective surface of the light fixture is no longer visible from the beach;
b.   Replacing fixtures having an exposed light source with fixtures containing recessed light sources or shields;
c.   Replacing traditional light bulbs with yellow “bug” type bulbs not exceeding 25 watts;
d.   Replacing nondirectional fixtures with directional fixtures that point down and away from the beach;
e.   Replacing fixtures having transparent or translucent coverings with fixtures having opaque shields covering an arc of at least 180 degrees and extending an appropriate distance below the bottom edge of the fixture on the seaward side so that the light source or any reflective surface of the light fixture is not visible from the beach;
f.   Replacing pole lamps with low-profile, low-level luminaries so that the light source or any reflective surface of the light fixture is not visible from the beach;
g.   Replacing incandescent, fluorescent, and high intensity lighting with the lowest wattage low pressure sodium vapor lighting possible for the specific application;
h.   Planting or improving vegetation buffers between the light source and the beach to screen light from the beach;
i.   Permanently removing or temporarily disabling any fixture which cannot be brought into compliance with the provisions of this division during the nesting season.
(3)   The negative effects of existing interior lighting emanating from doors and windows within line of sight of the beach shall be eliminated by taking such of the following measures as may be applicable:
a.   Applying window tint or film which meets the transmittance values for tinted glass;
b.   Rearranging lamps and other moveable fixtures away from windows;
c.   Using window treatments, such as blinds and curtains, to shield interior lights from the beach; and
d.   Turning off unnecessary lights.
(4)   For purposes of this division replacement or alteration of a nonconforming, artificial lighting structure, for the purpose of bringing such a structure into compliance with this division, shall be deemed a repair for purposes of article V of this chapter.
(Ord. No. 97-08, § 3, 5-6-1997)
Sec. 126-1001.  Alternative lighting plan.
Any person may submit an alternative lighting plan as long as it demonstrates that the point source of light or any reflective surface is not directly visible from the beach and that areas seaward of the frontal, or primary, dune are not directly, indirectly or cumulatively-illuminated.
(Ord. No. 97-08, § 3, 5-6-1997)


Sec. 126-1002.  Interpretation.
(a)   Where any of the provisions of this section appear to be in conflict with state laws preempting local authority, they shall not take effect until such time as the preemption is withdrawn.
(b)   Where any of the provisions of section 126-997 appear to be in conflict with another provision of this division or another provision of this Land Development Code, the provision providing the greatest protection against glare, light trespass and sky glow shall apply.
(Ord. No. 00-10, § 3, 6-6-2000)