Mote and state wildlife officers seeking help to determine who drove over marked sea turtle nests near Turtle Beach on south Siesta Key

Mote staffer reported incident on June 22

Tire tracks are visible over the area where nests had been marked. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Mote Marine Laboratory are asking the public for help in determining who drove over eight sea turtle nests near Turtle Beach on Siesta Key on June 22, including a newly laid, unmarked nest.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call FWC’s wildlife alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

“Upon Mote’s initial inspection, there was no obvious damage to eggs,” a Mote news release said, “but it is difficult to assess the damage done to each nest without disturbing the nest further.” Thus, Mote scientists may not know the potential impacts on each nest until they hatch, the release added.

“Sea turtles are protected under federal and state laws as well as local ordinances,” the Mote release emphasized. “Harming sea turtles, their nests or eggs is illegal and can result in serious fines or even jail time,” it added.

“We are disappointed to see this kind of destruction — especially to know that it likely took place at night, when the perpetrators could have easily driven over hatchlings or hit a nesting sea turtle,” said Coquina Homer, a Mote biological technician, in the release. “We go to a lot of effort to protect sea turtles, which are threatened species. We hope that members of the public learn from this incident and help to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Homer reported the incident to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office on the morning of June 22. The Mote news release said that a small vehicle dislodged the stakes around the seven nests that had been discovered prior to the incident.

Mote also submitted a report to the FWC on June 22. The FWC “leads wildlife law enforcement in Florida,” the Mote news release said, but “Mote Marine Laboratory provides independent, scientific monitoring for 35 miles of sea turtle nesting beaches from Longboat Key though Venice.”

Sea turtle nests are marked with yellow stakes. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Sheriff’s Office report noted that the vehicle that drove over the nests started its path at Turtle Beach Park and returned there.

“Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrol found the damage and tracks from a golf cart or all-terrain vehicle (ATV),” the Mote release pointed out.

“FWC officers conducted an initial investigation,” the release explained, but it was inconclusive because so little additional evidence was found.

Brian Norris an FWC officer who handles public information requests for the agency, told The Sarasota News Leaderin a June 27 telephone interview that he had no update since June 22. “We haven’t received any more leads.”

It was difficult, too, he said, to determine with certainty the type of vehicle that was involved. Golf carts and ATVs use similar types of tires, he noted.

Protect sea turtles on the beach

A sea turtle hatchling heads to the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

Sea turtle nesting season officially began May 1 and will end on Oct. 31 along Southwest Florida beaches, the Mote release pointed out. Mote asks that residents and visitors follow these turtle-friendly tips:

  • If you encounter a nesting turtle or hatchlings, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
  • Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October. Artificial lights visible from the beach can disorient and attract sea turtles, particularly hatchlings that should be crawling toward the water.
  • Close drapes after dark.
  • Stack beach furniture at the dune line or, ideally, remove it from the beach.
  • Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
  • Do not approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles.
  • Do not use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
  • Do not encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
  • Do no use fireworks on the beach.
  • Do not interfere with sea turtle nests marked with stakes and flagging tape.

From Longboat Key through Venice, beachgoers should wait until at least sunrise to set up furniture or equipment, the release explained. This will allow any new turtle crawls and nests to be documented by Mote scientists. “If you see turtle tracks not yet documented by Mote (documented tracks are crossed out with an “X” in the sand), please avoid placing furniture on them and call Mote’s Turtle Patrol at 941-388-4331 to report their location,” the release continued. Tracks that are marked with small flags “have been found by Mote volunteers but are awaiting documentation,” the release added.

Furthermore, dogs are not allowed on Sarasota County beaches other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice, where they must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances, the release pointed out.