A close up selfie with a turtle may seem like a fun idea, but it maybe killing the turtle’s young ones. Jennifer Winters from the Volusia County Habitat Conservation Program Manager says doing so could endanger hatchlings – overwhelming a sea turtle with cameras could trigger a false crawl, when a sea turtle comes to the beach to try to lay its eggs, but then is met by a group of beach visitors making it nervous. That sea turtle then heads back out into the ocean, getting rid of its eggs out at sea.
“We’re hearing reports of them using flashlights and getting next to the turtles,” she said.
The danger is not limited to the adult sea turtle.
Flagler and Volusia Counties are reporting as many as 1,500 nests, while Canaveral National Seashore in Brevard County is reporting 2,600 nests.
A sea turtle could potentially lay 50 eggs per nest. That many nests could lead to a bumper crop of baby sea turtles, tempting visitors to take a closer look at a hatchling making its way to the ocean.
Depending on the species, sea turtles are either on the endangered or threatened species list.
Interacting with them can carry a penalty. Sea turtles, their eggs and their nests are protected under state and federal law. Under state law, destroying a sea turtle nest or eggs is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and/or five years in prison.
“Well they can certainly be penalized and even arrested. There have been some cases where we’ve had people arrested because they’ve been harassing turtles along the beach,” said Winters.
Winters says its best for visitors to watch sea turtles from a distance and let nature takes its course.
Sea Patrol officers say they have even responded to calls from teachers with students who took hatchlings to school for show-and-tell. The good news is, sea turtle groups say they are seeing a higher than normal number of sea turtle nests this season.
Here are some of the things you shouldn’t do next to turtles:
– Don’t disturb a turtle that is crawling to or from the ocean or laying eggs. Watch from a distance of at least 30 feet away, keep lights and flash photography off and speak quietly.
– Never shine lights on sea turtle nests, hatchlings, or adult turtles.
– Flashlight and lantern use is discouraged; however, a flashlight with a red LED bulb or a light covered with a red filter is less disruptive to sea turtles.
-Don’t litter. Cigarette butts, fishing line and other trash can harm the animals and birds along the beach and is unsightly for beach visitors.