If you live in Florida, you know better. If you're new to the state, listen up! Don't touch sea turtles!
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is looking for Stephanie Rushing of Orlando after she was seen on a Snapchat video picking up a hatchling on its way to the water on Longboat Key.
Witnessing a sea turtle nest hatching is a rare event, and it’s one sea turtle activists say the woman in this video abused.
“What she did picking up the hatchling is cruel, ignorant and illegal,” says Suzi Fox, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring.
“The fact she was giggling is upsetting to me,” says Fox. “We spend our lives protecting these turtles and educating the public. I can’t believe she didn’t know.”
We showed the video to out-of-state visitor Jackie Guiser. She knew what to do.
“I’d leave it alone,” said Guiser.
The video also shows a sign warning touching a turtle is illegal. You also see someone shining a bright light on dozens of hatchlings trying to find the water confusing it for the moonlight.
“I don’t think she cares much about the environment or sea turtles,” Guiser says.
Despite this being a record-breaking year for sea turtle nests, they’re still in danger. Experts say it takes each one of the hatchlings in that nest 35 years before they’re ready to reproduce.
Fox says turtle hatchings are not a tourist attraction. “This is wildlife. You have to be respectful, stay back 50 feet away, stay quiet. Watch it with your eyes and put it in your soul … don’t’ take a photo of it.”
Rushing faces local, state and federal fines even jail time. Her fate is in FWC’s hands.
“I don’t think she needs to go to jail. I don’t think she needs to pay a fine. But she needs to publicly say she’s sorry. I’ll accept that,” Fox says.
Fox says anyone living near the water is required to use turtle-friendly lights. She also asks homeowners to keep the blinds closed at night so the turtles don't get disoriented by confusing the house lights for the moonlight.