A marked sea turtle nest on Nokomis Beach has been damaged by suspected poachers, Mote Marine Laboratory said on Wednesday.
Around 1:30 a.m. on July 5, two members of Mote's nighttime sea turtle tagging team saw three suspects digging into the nest, a news release said. The suspects ran away before they could be identified.
Although it is not clear whether any eggs were taken from the nest, a broken egg was found on the surface.
The incident happened less than a month after eight sea turtle nests were run over by a small vehicle on Siesta Key.
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While intentional sea turtle poaching is rare in Mote's area from Longboat Key to Venice, Melissa Bernhard, Mote Senior Research Biologist, says vandalism and accidental damage is of more common.
"All species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered and are protected under federal and state laws as well as local ordinances," Mote Marine said in a release. "Harming sea turtles, their eggs or nests, including nest-marking materials, is illegal and may result in serious fines or even jail time."
The incident was reported to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Mote Marine urges the public to report sea turtle nest disruptions to FWC’s wildlife alert hotline 888-404-FWCC (3922) or the local sheriff’s department.
To report a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee County, call Mote Marine’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212.
Follow Emily Wunderlich on Twitter @EmilyWunderlich.