NAVARRE BEACH — When it's sea turtle nesting season, a line drawn in the sand could be a federal offense.
Over the weekend, volunteers with the local sea turtle patrol group were disheartened to find names and initials drawn in the cordoned off area on Navarre Beach where sea turtle eggs have been buried.
"The area is clearly marked off," said Cinnamon Holderman, one of the turtle watch volunteers. "It's possible to have eggs or hatchlings in the sand. It's marked off so people are not walking on it. It's very aggravating and confusing, because it makes no sense. It's just terrorizing an endangered species."
Holderman has been volunteering with the turtle watch group since about 2005 and said in the past few years, there has been an increase in disturbed nests. One nesting season she recalled people had dug up sea turtle eggs and were throwing them at the boardwalk.
It's not easy to find culprits, which is why the turtle patrol asks for beach goers to be good stewards of the turtle nests and report any suspicious activity.
"We always call FWC (Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission) and report it when we find disturbed nests," she said.
Sea turtles are considered endangered species. Anyone who is caught disturbing, taking, mutilating, destroying or harassing sea turtles, their nests or eggs is committing a third-degree felony according to the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act. Violating the law could result in fines up to $50,000 and/or jail time, said Robbin Trindell, biological administrator at FWC.
"Turtles need a dark, quiet beach," Trindell said. "Disturbances may cause a nesting female to not emerge from the water, or leave the beach. It's a great risk of up to 100 new eggs."
Trindell said FWC has seen an uptick of turtle nest disturbances statewide. Some cases could be curious tourists who start digging to see the hatchlings. She advises that folks steer clear of nesting areas to avoid potential danger during the nesting season, which runs through October.
"We want people to be respectful, watch their kids and help keep and eye on the nests," said Holderman. "You can dig somewhere else."