Threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nests Vandalized on 4th of July Weekend in Florida

Officials are urging members of the public to come forward with information after two sea turtle nests on a Florida beach were vandalized over the Fourth of July weekend.

Members of the Escambia County Sea Turtle Patrol, a group that is part of the county's conservation program, found one loggerhead nest enclosure on Pensacola Beach was destroyed, and another appeared to have been dug at, according to an Escambia County press release. The county, which shared photos of the disturbed nests on its Facebook page, said the eggs appeared to be unharmed.

Pensacola Beach currently has eight loggerhead nests, while another is on Perdido Key around 27 miles away. Loggerheads, which are deemed a threatened species in Florida, are among the five types of sea turtle that inhabit the state's waters and use its beaches to nest. The others are the green, leatherback, Kemp's ridley and hawksbill, which are all endangered.

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To protect these animals, enclosures are put up to keep beachgoers away. Only designated volunteers are allowed to check on them and ensure they have not been disturbed.

Sea turtles are protected under both federal and state law, and individuals who harass or disturb adults, their hatchlings, eggs, or nests can be hit with fines or prison time.

Escambia County alerted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Escambia County Sheriff's Office about the incident, but said enforcing laws can be tough when little information is available.

It asked anyone with information about the vandalism to call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922.

The incident comes ahead of the Pensacola Beach Air Show, held between July 7 and 10, featuring the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron. The event can attract huge crowds.

Marine resources division manager captain Robert Turpin said in a statement: "With the upcoming Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show, Escambia County Marine Resources Division urges boaters and beachgoers to watch out for sea turtles, shorebirds and other coastal wildlife.

"Beachgoers should respect sea turtle and shorebird nests and stay out of posted areas. Boaters should keep a sharp lookout for turtles and manatees resting on the surface and be aware of shallow seagrass areas.

"Both boaters and beachgoers can help protect coastal wildlife by properly stowing trash and remembering to 'Leave No Trace' at the end of their day."

The Leave No Trace initiative asks beachgoers to keep the beach as they found it, and turn off lights that can confuse hatchlings during the spring and summer months. This prevents the reptiles from being disturbed during their nesting season, which runs between May and October 31. During this period, thousands of endangered turtles lay eggs on beaches on the shore of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast.

In its news release announcing the vandalism of the nests, Escambia County said those who find sea turtles on the beach should keep away, turn of any lights, and not to touch the animals.

If any wildlife appears to be injured or in danger, the Escambia County Marine Resources can be reached at (850) 554-5869 or (850) 426-1257, or FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922.

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A Miami-Dade county sea turtle expert holds a loggerhead turtle as he prepares to release it into the ocean July 24, 2007 in Florida. Two loggerhead nests were disturbed over the 4th of July weekend in Escambia County. Joe Raedle/Getty Images