A baby sea turtle makes its way to the ocean.

Image: Shutterstock

Last week, three poachers damaged a marked sea turtle nest on Nokomis Beach, leaving behind a broken egg. It was the second incident in less than two weeks—on June 22, an ATV ran over eight nests on Siesta Key Beach

This time, Mote Marine Laboratory reports that two members of its nighttime sea turtle tagging team saw the poachers digging into a nest on July 5 around 1:30 a.m. As the team moved closer, the poachers filled the hole and ran away; they remain unidentified. Mote reported the incident to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, which investigates wildlife law violations. Tampering with or harming sea turtles, their eggs or their nests is illegal and can result in fines or jail time.

Sea turtle nest poaching is rare, says Mote senior biologist Melissa Bernhard, but accidental damage and vandalism—such as the ATV incident in June—happen more frequently.

A marked and flagged sea turtle nest.

The nest in question was discovered and marked with wood stakes and flagging tape two weeks earlier by Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program, which documents sea turtle nesting activity along Sarasota County's 35 miles of beaches. The 2016 nesting season was record-breaking, and last year's hit similar numbers, with 4,503 sea turtle nests recorded from Longboat Key down to Venice. 

You can help protect sea turtles and their nests by staying informed about their nesting habits; turning off lights on the beach at night; removing your beach supplies and trash when you leave the beach; keeping a safe distance from sea turtles and their hatchlings; following boating guidelines; watching out for lost hatchlings; and reaching out to professionals—such as Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program (941-388-4331) or Stranding Investigations Program (941-988-0212)—if you encounter a lost, sick or wounded sea turtle.

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