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Resident says turtles suffer from out-of-control tourists

MELISSA REID
Associate Publisher
mreid@lbknews.com

Keeping the sea turtle nesting numbers high doesn’t include the turtles being observed as if they were a type of Minecraft video-gaming experience. Searching for a nesting sea turtle while holding a flashlight, as though they were a Minecraft character with a torch looking for coal, will only serve to disorient the adults and hatchlings on the beach at night.

Longboat Key resident John Weber says visitors seem to be clamoring on the beaches late at night to try and get a glimpse of sea turtles nesting. The fact that the animals are endangered eludes them, according to Weber.

“These visitors shriek, yell, dig and light up the beach while having absolutely zero respect whatsoever for nature. These guests basically utilize the beach at night (after hours) as their own personal entertainment venue,” wrote Weber in a letter to Longboat Key News.

Weber owns a condominium on the beach and says he has a full view of the activity at night. He believes that the individuals on the beach trying to get a look at the sea turtles nesting are most likely visitors to the island on vacation.

“I can tell you that without fail nearly every single night during turtle season, generally between the hours of approximately 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., there are literally crowds of children, teens and parents searching and scouring the beach with cell phone lights, cigarette lighters and flashlights of varying intensities looking for sea turtles. These are not residents of Longboat Key. These are ‘visitors’ to our island that get wind of the possibility of observing nocturnal movements of sea turtles and treat the beach as their own personal ‘Disney Land,’” wrote Weber.

Code Enforcement Officer Chris Elbon says he has not seen any of this activity on the beach at night, but does not patrol the beach every evening so he says it is possible that its occurring.

“I have not seen it, but anyone witnessing such activity should call the police department so an officer can intervene,” said Elbon.

Since all sea turtle species in Florida are on Threatened or Endangered Species list, it is illegal for humans to molest the animals or their nests. In addition, it is against town ordinance for people to be on the beach after 11 p.m.

Weber believes the problem could be also be solved not just by law enforcement, but by educating the visitors. This is also something Elbon has tried to do with the community by posting flyers at resorts, hotels and condominiums informing everyone of the sea turtles and the restrictions on beach activity.

Last year the Town of Longboat Key passed a new stricter ordinance than the previous one as a requirement from the state due to an above normal number of disorientations on Longboat’s beaches.

This new ordinance not only requires beach residences to place turtle friendly lighting on the exterior of the building, but to also eliminate light coming from the interior of residences. Solutions include blinds, curtains or window tinting to block the light. Another new restriction is that all beach furniture and other objects have to be moved back away from the shoreline, off the beach and closer to the buildings.

Sea turtle hatchlings can become disoriented (resulting in hatchlings not reaching the ocean) by lighting coming from buildings on land as well as bumping into furniture, holes, or other obstacles. Sea turtle mothers can also get stuck under furniture or in holes dug in the sand while trying to come onto the beach and lay their nests.

If anyone sees individuals on the beach with lights of any kind, molesting a sea turtle or hatchling, disturbing a nest, or just on the beach after it closes at 11 p.m., they should call the Longboat Key Police Department dispatch at 941-316-1977 or 941-316-1201 and an officer will be sent to the location.

For any stranded turtles, the number for Mote Marine’s Stranding Investigations Program is 941-988-0212. In addition, the number for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program is 1-888-404-3922.

 

Town of Longboat Key Ordinance protecting sea turtles and beach restrictions

Under Chapter 100 – Marine Turtle Protection, Section 100.07 – Prohibited Activities of the Town of Longboat Key Code of Ordinances, the following activities are prohibited on the beach:

· Except as authorized, any transient lighting which purposely illuminates nesting sea turtles or hatchlings;

· Except as authorized, the operation of all motorized vehicles;

· Engage in promotional or commercial activities or otherwise hold a special event without first obtaining a special events permit;

· Start a fire, other than fires for cooking purposes contained in a grill or stove;

· Throw, place, or deposit any paper, food, trash, cans, bottles, or other refuse, except in designated refuse containers;

· Launch a motorized vessel into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico by bringing it across the beach;

· Golf, including chip and putt;

· Use any public beach access for the transportation of mechanical beach cleaning equipment;

· Possess any pet or animal on the beach, with the exception of service animals;

· Engage in any other activity in violation of Chapter 92 – Parks, Public Beaches, and Public Beach and Bay Accesses, and Public Places of the Town of Longboat Key Code of Ordinances, including the following:

· Except as authorized, all persons and vehicles are prohibited from being present on any public beach or bay access or the public beach from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.;

· No person entering on and using any town park, the public beach seaward of the mean high-water line or seaward of the erosion control line, the public beach and bay accesses, public places, or Greer (Beer Can) Island Beach Park, the Sister Keys, Town Islands, White Key, Wake Island, and Whale Key, shall bed down on the premises; i.e., set up tents, shacks, or any other temporary shelter for the purpose of overnight camping;

· It shall be unlawful for any person to possess any unsealed or open alcoholic beverage on any public property, on the public beach, on a beached vessel, on a public beach access, or on Greer (Beer Can) Island Beach Park, the Sister Keys, Town Islands, White Key, Wake Island, and Whale Key, unless specifically exempted.

 

Florida law protecting sea turtles

Under Florida State Statute 379.2431 ‘Marine Turtle Protection Act,’ except as authorized, no person, firm, or corporation may knowingly possess the eggs of any marine turtle species or knowingly take, disturb, mutilate, destroy, cause to be destroyed, transfer, sell, offer to sell, molest, or harass any marine turtles or the eggs or nest of any marine turtles.

· Any person, firm, or corporation that commits any prohibited act involving any egg of any marine turtle species described shall pay a penalty of $100 per egg in addition to other penalties.

· Any person, firm, or corporation that illegally possesses 11 or fewer of any eggs of any marine turtle species commits a first degree misdemeanor. For a second or subsequent violation, any person, firm, or corporation that illegally possesses 11 or fewer of any eggs of any marine turtle species commits a third degree felony.

· Any person, firm, or corporation that illegally possesses more than 11 of any eggs of any marine turtle species commits a third degree felony.

· Any person, firm, or corporation that illegally takes, disturbs, mutilates, destroys, causes to be destroyed, transfers, sells, offers to sell, molests, or harasses any marine turtle species, or the eggs or nest of any marine turtle species as described in this subsection, commits a third degree felony.

· Any person, firm, or corporation that solicits or conspires with another person, firm, or corporation, to commit a prohibited act commits a felony of the third degree.

 

 

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