Can satellite-based night lights be used for conservation? The case of nesting sea turtles in the Mediterranean

Tessa Mazor*, Noam Levin, Hugh P. Possingham, Yaniv Levy, Duccio Rocchini, Anthony J. Richardson, Salit Kark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Artificial night lights pose a major threat to multiple species. However, this threat is often disregarded in conservation management and action because it is difficult to quantify its effect. Increasing availability of high spatial-resolution satellite images may enable us to better incorporate this threat into future work, particularly in highly modified ecosystems such as the coastal zone. In this study we examine the potential of satellite night light imagery to predict the distribution of the endangered loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and green (Chelonia mydas) sea turtle nests in the eastern Mediterranean coastline. Using remote sensing tools and high resolution data derived from the SAC-C satellite and the International Space Station, we examined the relationship between the long term spatial patterns of sea turtle nests and the intensity of night lights along Israel's entire Mediterranean coastline. We found that sea turtles nests are negatively related to night light intensity and are concentrated in darker sections along the coast. Our resulting GLMs showed that night lights were a significant factor for explaining the distribution of sea turtle nests. Other significant variables included: cliff presence, human population density and infrastructure. This study is one of the first to show that night lights estimated with satellite-based imagery can be used to help explain sea turtle nesting activity at a detailed resolution over large areas. This approach can facilitate the management of species affected by night lights, and will be particularly useful in areas that are inaccessible or where broad-scale prioritization of conservation action is required.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)63-72
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s rangers and the many people who collected data and sent reports on turtle nest site locations over the past two decades. We thank the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) Open Landscape Institute (OLI) and Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection for providing GIS data. T.M. gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Australia–Israel Scientific Exchange Foundation. Appendix A


  • Artificial night lights
  • Caretta caretta
  • Chelonia mydas
  • Coastal conservation
  • Satellite imagery
  • Sea turtle conservation


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