ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- The reward amount for the so-called "turtle terrorists" -- the two seen riding a motorized vehicle over five sea turtle nests and three black skimmer chicks on June 27 -- has ballooned to up to $18,100.
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. Three black skimmer chicks died as a result and the damage to eggs in the five sea turtle nests is unknown.
Anna Maria Island Sea Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring collected $2,600 in donations for a reward as of Monday, according to director Suzi Fox. Additionally, Charles Sisco, of Palm City, has offered $5,000 for each person. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals previously pledged $2,500, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society pledged $2,000 and Crime Stoppers offered a standard up to $1,000 reward.
That totals to $18,100, though Frank Brunner, who is handling the reward money through Crime Stoppers, cautioned that actual reward amounts vary based on a few factors, including if suspects are actually convicted of the crime. Other entities offering rewards have also said the reward amount will vary based on police recommendations and convictions.
Brunner added that the Turtle Watch donation, which was coordinated through Crime Stoppers, wouldn't
be official until Wednesday afternoon.
"People were so upset about this that I knew it would be high," Fox said. "I didn't know it would be this high."
The culprits have received wide criticism, with the Sea Shephard Conservation Society, an international marine wildlife protection agency, dubbing the two, "Floridian turtle terrorists." PETA called them "heartless individuals," and Sisco referred to them as, "Florida idiots."
Brunner said posting rewards is typically more effective if they have photos or videos of the incident, which is not available in this case.
"But posting rewards do generally enhance activity and community buzz around the case," Brunner said. "Which is always good."
AMI Turtle Watch said they won't know the damage to the sea turtle nests until they hatch or until they're legally allowed to check 72 days after the nests have been laid, which will be between the end of July and mid-August for all five nests. There are typically about 100 eggs in each turtle nest.
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. No one other than police and AMI Turtle Watch are legally allowed to use motorized vehicles on the beach.
"We don't have big industry here, we have wildlife," Fox said. "And I think it's great that people are committed to protecting that wildlife."
Anyone who wishes to donate more money towards a reward can call Fox at 941-778-5638. Anyone with tips can contact Manatee Crime Stoppers at 1-866-634-TIPS (8477).
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby