Although the executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch is alleging that staff with the city of Holmes Beach broke federal law by tampering with a sea turtle nest, the state wildlife agency is taking it as an teaching, not enforcement, opportunity.
Late July 4, beachgoers spotted a sea turtle nesting beneath a city bench near 66th Street. Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox said the observers saw the turtle “collide and struggle.” The next morning, turtle watch volunteers roped off the nest site with stakes and orange tape.
When the city heard about the incident from the Bradenton Herald, public works employees removed the stakes, moved the bench, and replaced the stakes.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement spokesman Rob Klepper told the Bradenton Herald that the city would not face any charges. According to state law, it is illegal for a “person, firm or company” that doesn’t have a marine turtle permit to take, disturb, sell, harass, mutilate or destroy any sea turtle, hatchling, egg or nest. It’s considered a third-degree felony.
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FWC staff are working with Fox, Holmes Beach code enforcement and other city staff, according to Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the commission’s habitats and species conservation division.
She noted that Holmes Beach “has agreed to take actions to reduce the potential for impacts to sea turtles.”
Holmes Beach Police Chief William Tokajer said that this means if a turtle nests under a city bench the future, turtle watch should contact the city before marking the nest so they can safely move the bench. Other benches may be moved as close to the dune as possible, he added.
FWC isn’t directing them to remove the benches completely, Tokajer said.
He also claimed that when city staff approached the nest the morning of July 5, there was no official sign on the stakes indicating it was a turtle nest.
The city of Holmes Beach has around 40 memorial benches on their three-mile stretch of beach, more than what Tokajer originally told the Herald. Fox said this was the third incident this year that a female turtle collided with a city bench. She alleged that the city was in violation with its own ordinance, which deems non-permanent beach furniture cannot remain on the beach overnight. As of July 8, there have been 388 nests found on Anna Maria Island.
This week, Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson met with Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker.
“We had a very good conversation,” Johnson said. “We both agree that on kind of how to get this thing smoothed out.”
This includes better communication between the municipalities and special interest groups, he said. Johnson said the city has also reached out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to be advised on whether the city needs a permit for the benches.
“The FWC remains committed to working with all involved parties to help ‘Share the beach’ with nesting sea turtles,” Segelson wrote in an email to the Bradenton Herald.