One woman just learned the hard way not to mess with turtles

A woman in Florida was arrested over the weekend for a rather unusual crime. She is accused of harassing a sea turtle, and the evidence against her is pretty convincing.

As the police department in Melbourne, Florida, explained on its Facebook page, back in July, social media was flooded with photos of two women sitting atop sea turtles on the beach. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received tons of calls about the photos, and launched a criminal investigation.

On Saturday morning, officers from the Melbourne police department responding to a disturbance call found Stephanie Marie Moore, one of the two women photographed sitting on the turtles, at the location. She was arrested, charged with a felony and is being held on a $2,000 bond, according to reports.

Is it really such a big deal to mess with sea turtles? Yes. It’s a very big deal. In fact, harassing a marine turtle or destroying its nest is a felony that could land you in actual prison. In Florida, the penalty is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or five years incarceration. Why? ALL species of sea turtles found along the U.S. coast are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

If you see an adult turtle on the beach, it is there for only one of two reasons—it’s either injured, or it’s a female sea turtle coming ashore to lay eggs. (Once male sea turtles hatch from their eggs and crawl to the ocean, they generally never return to shore. They spend their entire lives at sea.)

Interacting with a female sea turtle while she’s attempting to bury her eggs in the sand can do tremendous harm. Taking photos, using a flashlight or even just crowding her can trigger what scientists call a “false crawl,” which basically means she gets spooked and returns to the water without burying her eggs. She may return to the beach later to give it another go, but sometimes she releases her eggs into the ocean. This is a devastating turn of events. Sea turtle eggs can only hatch if they’re buried in sand, because turtle embryos cannot survive if they’re constantly underwater.

We should probably also mention that these gorgeous animals are also living beings and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. So what should you do if you spot a sea turtle on the beach attempting to bury her eggs? Stand back, let her do her thing and consider yourself lucky to witness the miracle of nature.

Learn more about sea turtle conservation at the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

(Images via iStock)

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