Investigators want to know who disturbed a federally protected loggerhead sea turtle nest on Navarre Beach Tuesday night, and there is a cash reward being offered in the case.
According to Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Patrollers, the new nest was located Wednesday morning and had clearly been dug into by someone. Sand tracks at the scene showed footprints and dig marks at the nest site.
Turtle patroller Paige Douglas was among those that responded to the nest just east of beach access 37A. She said digging up nests can have serious consequences for these endangered species.
“Digging of any sort can really harm those sea turtle eggs,” she explained. “They are a protected species, so this is not something they should have been doing.”
A witness from one of the neighboring condos said she spotted bright flashlights near the area around 10 p.m. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officer William Wilkenson of Navarre is investigating the case. He said they believe the nest was laid about 9 or 10 p.m. Tracks in the sand from the nesting turtle lead directly to the nesting site in the dunes where human tracks and dig marks were found.
“The turtles are protected and so are their nests,” Wilkenson said. “…If we can identify who did it, they will be charged in most cases.”
He said there are no suspects at this time.
Douglas said it is important to protect sea turtle nests because so few hatchlings will survive to adulthood but are critical to the beach.
“They are very important to the ecosystem,” she said. “There have been many negative impacts from humans to sea turtles, and because of those impacts we as the sea turtle patrol do whatever we can to protect those nests.”
Turtle patroller Cinnamon Holderman has put up a cash reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. She said she is frustrated by the lack of enforcement of environmental laws on the beach by the county, and this incident is another example of that.
“People all around this state work around the clock to protect many different threatened and endangered species of birds and turtles, and disrespectful people show up and think they can do whatever they want because this county shows no level of enforcement on the beach!” she wrote in an email.
She added that she hopes FWC imposes the maximum punishment. Under Florida statute and the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the perpetrator could face up to $100,000 fine and a year of prison time. Civil penalties could amount to $25,000.
The nest has since been refilled and posted with signage. This is the fifth sea turtle nest of Navarre Beach’s 2020 season, which ends Oct. 31.
Anyone with information regarding this incident should contact FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922)