NOKOMIS BEACH (FOX 13) - Officials are looking for suspected sea turtle nest poachers who were caught in the act July 5 on Nokomis Beach.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and FWC are investigating after two members of Mote Marine Laboratory's nighttime sea turtle tagging team say they saw three people digging into the nest at around 1:30 a.m.
When the suspects realized they had been caught, they filled the hole and ran away.
Mote officials say the nest was marked with stakes.
The suspects reportedly left a broken egg on the sand before they fled. It's not clear if they managed to escape with any eggs.
All species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered and are protected under federal and state laws as well as local ordinances. Harming sea turtles, their eggs or nests, including nest-marking materials, is illegal and may result in fines or jail time.
According to Mote Senior Biologist Melissa Bernhard, intentional poaching of sea turtle nests is rare from Longboat Key through Venice. Accidental damage and vandalism are more common.
Last month Mote's Sea Turtle Patrol found eight sea turtle nests damaged by an all-terrain vehicle or golf cart on Siesta Key and reported the case to law enforcement officials.
Mote urges the public to respect and protect sea turtles and their nests. If you suspect that someone is tampering with a sea turtle nest, harassing a sea turtle, or has possession of a sea turtle or any of its parts, please call FWC's wildlife alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or your local sheriff's department.
If you see a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, contact Mote Marine Laboratory's Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212. Outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call FWC's wildlife alert hotline.
For more information about Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program and for additional turtle friendly tips, visit https://mote.org/research/program/sea-turtle-conservation-research.