ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Animal protection groups and law enforcement organizations are offering rewards totaling up to $5,500 for information leading to the arrest of the man and woman whose motor-vehicle joyride at 10:30 p.m. Saturday killed three black skimmer chicks and damaged five loggerhead sea turtle nests on Anna Maria Island beaches.
Witnesses said the man and woman drove a motor vehicle on the border between Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach, and it looked like they were aiming for the marked sea turtle nests and laughing.
Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has a base in Key West and operates in 40 countries, said he's offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of what he called: "Floridian turtle terrorists."
"We offer rewards pretty often," Watson said. "We're not always successful, but we like to help how we can."
Watson said he is coordinating with the Holmes Beach Police Department. Reward money will be given out based on information provided to the police.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a national animal rights organization, also offered up to $2,500 as a reward for the arrest and conviction of the two individuals.
"By targeting and killing defenseless protected animals in an egregiously cruel act, these heartless individuals also broke the law," says PETA Senior Director Colleen O'Brien. "PETA is urging anyone with information to come forward now, before anyone else gets hurt."
Manatee County Crime Stoppers is offering a standard reward of up to $1,000 for information, with the actual amount dependent on police recommendations. Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch members are also collecting donations to increase the reward.
Glenn Wiseman, education director at Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, said it's impossible to know the damage done to the sea turtles until the eggs hatch or they're legally allowed to check the nests 72 days after they are laid. Wiseman said that will be between the end of July and mid-August for the five damaged nests.
"The earliest nest is due to hatch any day," Wiseman said.
Two black skimmer chicks were killed instantly when run over, and one was sent to rehabilitation, where it also died.
"They don't do well in rehabilitation," Wiseman said. "They get very stressed."
Officials have little information on the vehicle, which wasn't a car. Witnesses said the vehicle had one large headlight, which could mean a motorcycle. Others sat it could have been a all-terrain or some other three-wheeled vehicle.
Wiseman said it was the third incident in 2015 when a nest was run over. In the other cases, damage done by a golf cart was not severe. Only police and AMI Turtle Watch are legally allowed to use motorized vehicles on the beach
"The worst damage would be if they were hatching and crawling up as the incident happened," Wiseman said.
If the turtle nests were damaged on purpose, civil penalties could range up to $25,000 and criminal penalties up to $100,000 plus a year in prison.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby