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FWC waiting on results from golf cart processed in sea turtle nests investigation

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Sep 1, 2020

SCCF

UPDATE: The FWC clarified that its investigation entails only five of the six nests reported.

“During the initial investigation, officers were positively able to document five sea turtle nests that had been impacted by this vehicle,” an FWC official stated today. “A sixth nest was noted, but there was insufficient evidence to conclude that this nest was impacted by the same means and in the same timeframe. The impact was minimal and it was unlikely to have damaged the contents of the nest. Therefore our investigation is of five nests that were damaged during this incident.”

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ORIGINAL (Sept. 1, 2020):

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is awaiting the results from an analysis of a golf cart to determine if the vehicle was involved in the damages to sea turtle nests on Captiva.

SCCF

In late July, the FWC received information that the loggerhead nests — near Captiva Drive and Paige Court — had been disturbed. They appeared to have been run over by a golf cart or similar vehicle.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation reported at the time that SCCF Sea Turtle Volunteer Stefanie Plein was on her morning patrol on July 26 when she observed tire tracks and stakes damaged on five nests. The next morning, the SCCF received two calls to its Sea Turtle Hotline — one from a resident and one from a visitor — about damage to the sixth nest, “where stakes were removed and thrown into the dune and it was likely driven over.”

“We’re all really disheartened that anyone would intentionally cause harm to our sea turtles,” SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan said at the time. “I’ve been with SCCF for seven turtle seasons and have never seen such disregard for our nests. Our community and visitors are generally so supportive of our efforts to protect our sea turtles.”

The incident was reported to the FWC, with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office signing on to assist with the investigation. It is illegal to drive a motorized vehicle on the island’s beaches without a permit.

Less than two weeks later, officials reported a possible break in the case.

SCCF

“The FWC and LCSO are working a possible lead,” Melody Kilborn, public information director for FWC’s Southwest Region Office, said on Aug. 7.

She confirmed that officers were at a Captiva rental home the day before processing a golf cart.

As of Aug. 27, the FWC was waiting to hear back on the examination of the cart.

“We are still awaiting results to come back from analysis,” Senior Officer Adam Brown, a public information officer with the Southwest Region Office, said. “Hopefully, we’ll have something soon.”

He reported that the LCSO was the first to be made aware of the golf cart.

FWC

“The suspected golf cart was phoned into the Lee County Sheriff’s Office from a member of the public,” Brown said. “The LCSO, in turn, provided that information to FWC.”

Anyone with knowledge of what happened is still asked to call the FWC.

“We are still encouraging anyone with information about this incident to call our Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 to report it,” he said. “Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.”

Florida’s five sea turtle species are listed as either endangered or threatened. The federal Endangered Species Act lists the green, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley turtle as endangered; the loggerhead is listed as threatened. This makes it illegal to harm, harass or kill sea turtles, their eggs or hatchlings. For more information, visit https://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/florida.

When the incident was reported, the SCCF was working with authorities.

FWC

“The turtles remain our top concern at this time and we hope none of the eggs were damaged,” Sloan said back in July. “We won’t find out until they hatch and then we will inventory the nests.”

To report issues with nests, nesting turtles or hatchlings, contact the SCCF’s Sea Turtle Hotline at 978-728-3663. For information about its program or to donate, visit www.sccf.org/our-work/sea-turtles.

The public can help fund sea turtle research and conservation by purchasing a 2020-21 sea turtle decal at tax collector’s offices for a $5 or more donation. Donations help fund research through the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and conservation through its Imperiled Species Management Section. For additional information, visit “https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/sea-turtle/decals”>https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/sea-turtle/decals.