We evaluate the effectiveness of legislation in reducing the negative impacts of beachfront lighting on sea turtle nesting activity, one of the main threats to the species. To this end we construct a time varying index of ordinance effectiveness across Florida counties and combine this with loggerhead nesting data to create a panel data set covering a 26 year period. Our econometric findings show that such legislation can significantly increase nesting activity, where current levels of protection result in an additional 34 per cent. Using our estimates within a calibrated population model we also demonstrate that legislation can reduce the time to the animals’ extinction. Finally, when considering estimates of local willingness to pay for sea turtle preservation, we show that alternatively raising sea turtles in captivity under a head start program may be prohibitively expensive.