Anna Maria Island beachgoers illegally marking off sea turtle nests

HOLMES BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – Some beach goers are taking matters into their own hands to help nesting sea turtles. They follow the animals at night and assume they’re lending a helping hand by marking their nests. But, the problem is, it’s illegal. 

One recent morning, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers discovered someone used seaweed to mark off a nest overnight, even leaving a message on the sand.

Another person drew a heart in the sand around a nest and left a small flag.

It seems like a helpful gesture, but Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox is furious.

“People need to not mark the nests,” said Fox.

“They’re disturbing the mothers and the mothers are aborting these nesting attempts and going back to sea,” she explained.

In her 30 years of work, Suzi Fox says the problem has never been this bad. On almost a nightly basis, people are disrupting nesting sea turtles, by either marking off the nests or worse, damaging the nests and breaking eggs.

The loggerheads and green turtles that nest here are protected by federal law. People are not allowed to go near them, because they could scare them or put the babies at risk. Turtle watch volunteers are specially trained to identify and protect these nests, so they need them to be completely undisturbed.

“The very data that we have to collect from that nest that tells us what species it made, where exactly those nests are so we can put our stakes in, is missing,” explained Fox.

“Mother nature is a terrible thing to mess with and it’s a shame when it happens,” said one beachgoer.

“I don’t think people are doing it to be mean. I think they’re doing it because they think they’re being helpful,” Fox explained.

Holmes Beach Police Officers are going to be patrolling the beaches to stop this from continuing.

“The turtles are part of our ecosystem. They’re endangered. You gotta give them the chance to survive,” said Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

It’s vital that people simply keep their distance.

If you see a turtle at night you should stay about 200 feet away.

Sea turtle nests are protected by local, state and federal laws. If you’re caught disturbing a nest, you could face hundreds of dollars in fines or time behind bars. If you spot anyone tampering with a nest, call police.

“The people in the night who just get here and they’re so excited and they plan their vacations around this, we know what’s in their heart. The best thing they can do is stay away from sea turtles at night,” said Fox.

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