Mason Stewart is truly a nature lover -- and that includes all of nature, even those creatures that aren't necessarily "lovable." Case in point, Stewart has even stopped his car to help snakes safely cross the road.
Growing up in the Golden Isles, it was only natural that he would develop a connection to the world around him. Stewart's love of animals began when he was a teenager. As a life guard on Jekyll Island during the late 1950s, he became acquainted with one of Coastal Georgia's most identifiable critters -- the sea turtle.
"I worked on Jekyll Island as a lifeguard back when Jekyll had lifeguards. That's when I first became acquainted with sea turtles," he said. "Of course, back then we didn't know much about them."
Stewart soon shook the sand of Coastal Georgia off his feet and went on to a successful career in the computer industry. But he and his wife, Barbara, returned to the area after retiring in 2005. It was then that a chance trip to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center with his grandchildren re-introduced him to the amphibians. Stewart learned of the potentially serious problems traditional flashlights cause nesting sea turtles. Light from standard flashlights can cause mother turtles to prematurely abandon their nests. It can also harm the young hatchlings.
"They use the starlight or the moonlight to find their way to the sea, so they will follow the white light of a flashlight. People have used the flashlights to bring them out," he said. "For a while, people were giving out red cellophane to put over a regular flashlight. Then people would leave lot of red cellophane pieces on the beach."
This severely diminished the young turtle's chances of getting safely off the beach and into the ocean.
Even so, turtle and human paths are bound to cross. Many people will continue to transverse Jekyll Island at night, even during the summer nesting season which runs from May to August.
That inspired Stewart to offer a solution.
"I've always liked problem solving, and with my background in computers, I decided to come up with a 'turtle friendly' flashlight," he said. "After researching for about a year, I came up with several prototypes. I played with a lot of ideas, and I wanted it to be cheap enough that the average family on vacation could buy one."
The result of his work was a red LED flashlight that does not emit a short wavelength of light. Therefore, it is not disruptive to sea turtles.
Stewart began producing his design and founded Turtle Safe LLC, a primarily web-based company with products for sell at www.turtlesafeonline.com. His rechargeable light has been certified as turtle safe by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the State Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Local hotels like the Jekyll Island Club and Hampton Inn on Jekyll Island are also getting on board by selling the lights. Stewart has even gotten orders from areas far from the Golden Isles.
"Eco-tourism has gotten very big, and I've gotten orders from England and Mexico," he said.
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