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Poaching reports concern Anna Maria turtle watch

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — Mote Marine Laboratory biologists have reported that poachers have struck four sea turtle nests, taking 300 to 400 eggs of the endangered and protected species, and it has Anna Maria egg watchers on edge.

Sea turtle biologist Ryan Welsh said the poaching could potentially strike a severe blow to the sea turtle population as only 1 in 1,000 eggs become surviving turtles.

“One of these eggs that have been poached could have been one that survived,” he said.

The news of poachers striking nests on beaches in Venice and on Casey Key between June 6 and Friday has members of the Anna Maria Turtle Watch concerned for nests on the island.

“We are nervous,” said Anna Maria director Suzi Fox. “But we are watching these nests like a hawk, as are our police departments on the beaches.”

Fox said it has been a fruitful nesting season so far on Anna Maria, as volunteers have documented 53 nests and 34 attempts made by female turtles to lay eggs.

Welsh said the poaching of sea turtle eggs is often done for food and for sale on the black market as a delicacy.

But Sarasota County, which holds the highest density of nesting loggerheads along the Gulf of Mexico, has never been a problem area for poaching, Welsh said.

“It is unheard of here,” Welsh said.

Both Welsh and Fox urged anyone who sees anyone suspicious around sea turtle nests to contact their local law enforcement agency or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Possessing sea turtle eggs carries a stiff penalty of up to one year in prison, federal fines of up to $100,000, and up to $500 plus $100 an egg in state fines.

In order to even touch a sea turtle nest, a person must have a state fish and wildlife permit, Welsh said.

And Mote volunteers who work with nests are always wearing shirts that state “Sea Turtle Patrol,” and have the Mote logo.

Welsh said he encourages people to ask to see Mote officials’ permits.

“I would gladly go into my bag to show someone my permit than to continue having this poaching going on,” he said.