Boca Raton officials say they are “educating the public and reeducating staff” after tourists dug up a leatherback sea turtle nest on a city beach Tuesday afternoon and lifeguards placed buckets of newly-hatched endangered reptiles underneath one of their stands.
The incident went public after WSVN reporter Andrew Dymburt shot video on his cell phone of a child digging next to a taped-off nest while other people, including beach lifeguards, stood around him. He posted the video on his Twitter page.
Dymburt, who was on the beach during his day off from work, said the nest was clearly marked, “Do Not Touch.” He said the tourists dug a hole around 3 feet deep and placed around 100 baby turtles in a bucket.
Chrissy Gibson, communications manager for the city of Boca Raton, confirmed the incident took place, but she said the people who removed the turtles did it out of benevolent ignorance, thinking the turtles would die in the heat. They placed them in the bucket, which she said was filled with wet sand, and the lifeguards placed the buckets underneath a stand.
“It was not done maliciously,” said Gibson, adding the nest should never have been disturbed, nor the turtles handled.
The nest is one of several monitored along the five miles of Boca Raton beach by the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. In response to Tuesday’s incident, the center released a video urging people never to go near sea turtle nests and not to touch sea turtle hatchlings.
“It is important to remember, never interfere with sea turtle nesting activity or a sea turtle hatchout. If you are concerned about a sea turtle or hatchling, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and please remember, never touch a sea turtle.
The FWC’s sea turtle number is 1-888-404-3922.
The agency released a statement that its “law enforcement staff is aware” of the incident.