Amateur turtle nest markers do more harm than good

- On Anna Maria Island, Turtle Watch volunteers are frustrated.

For more than 30 years, Suzi Fox has been making sure sea turtle nests are secure. But as the island becomes more of a tourist destination, visitors are making her job more difficult.

"We know they're trying to help us but they need to stay back. This is not something we need help with," said Suzi Fox.

Someone is marking off turtle nests with messages written in the sand. Some even use seaweed or tree limbs. It's a nice gesture, but it's causing problems. Turtle Watch volunteers rely on turtle prints in the sand to identify the species. 

"They are marking up all the signs that I need to collect the data from that nest. In some cases we don't even know what species made the crawl," she said.

Worst of all, the amateur turtle watchers are not properly trained to mark nests and the eggs are often not in the area they actually mark.

"The beach raker could run over it and the eggs, and actually kill the eggs. The police could run over it, people could poke an umbrella in it," Fox explained.

Anyone caught tampering with a sea turtle's nest, even with good intentions, could face thousands of dollars in fines - or even jail time.

"I think in some cases some don't know and I think some don't care," said Chief William Tokajer.

Holmes Beach Police Chief William Tokajer said there have been reports of people shining flashlights on sea turtles or taking flash pictures, which scares them away before they even nest.

Not only does it confuse the turtles, it's against the law.

"They shouldn't be touching them. They shouldn't molest them. If they're not a part of the Turtle Watch, they should leave them alone," he said.

These regulations are easily found on signs posted at the beach. Chief Tokajer hopes visitors will read them and get the message.

"When you're having your babies, your husband and wives are the only ones in the room. That's done for a reason - a little bit of privacy. Let the turtles nest and have their privacy," he said.

If you think you have found an unmarked nest or a hatching that has strayed from the waterline, call Turtle Watch at 941-778-5638.

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