Beachgoers Ride Endangered Sea Turtle As It Tries to Lay Eggs in South Carolina, Police Say

South Carolina police have said a group of people harassed and sat on a sea turtle as it was trying to lay eggs on a beach.

Local news outlet WBTW News13 said it obtained a call for service from the Horry County Police Department that confirmed police had responded to reports of the sea turtle harassment involving people riding a turtle.

The incident happened on Monday, July 12, at around 10:51 p.m. after a green sea turtle came ashore at Garden City Pier, Horry County, to nest.

In a Facebook post, the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE) group said the turtle was "harassed, photographed and ridden" after being approached by people. Police were called but the culprits had left the area.

Four sea turtle species come to South Carolina beaches to nest: loggerheads, greens, Kemp's ridleys, and leatherbacks. All four are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The sea turtle harassment was also reported by a member of the Garden City Surfside Sea Turtle Guardians Facebook group.

A member said there had been a "very disheartening night" of people harassing a sea turtle, which then retreated back into the sea.

They also reported the turtle was able to "quietly come back ashore to lay her nest" and took a photo of what appeared to be an egg laid in the sand.

Ann Wilson, a park ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park, told WBTW that the turtle had been trying to find a place to nest earlier in the day but had been unsuccessful once again because there were too many people around.

It was after the earlier attempts that the turtle came to the Garden City area where it was harassed.

Wilson said: "People are so excited about sea turtles they forget that they are dealing with a wild animal who is terrified of them.

"It's frustrating and sad because it is not proper behavior for anybody."

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said in a news release earlier this year that people who violate federal law by harming or interfering with sea turtles could face a fine up to $25,000 and a year's imprisonment.

The DNR said that people should respect sea turtles by observing them from a distance and keeping artificial lighting off the beach at night during nesting season. This is because lights, such as flash photography and beachfront property lights, can disorient nesting mothers.

South Carolina beachgoers can report all sick, injured or dead sea turtles and nest disturbances to the DNR at 1-800-922-5431.

Turtle on beach
A stock photo shows a turtle lying on a beach. Multiple species of sea turtle come to South Carolina beaches to nest. Janaph/Getty