High rate of sea turtle harassment complaints on Folly Beach

Updated: Jun. 18, 2019 at 1:20 AM EDT
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FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (WCSC) - Folly Beach officials are actively watching for people causing harm to sea turtles and their nests.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Folly Beach Public Safety combined say they’ve heard dozens of complaints of turtle harassment this month, including an incident of someone putting their child on top of a turtle to ride it.

SCDNR officials say if people don’t start leaving the turtles alone, they will die at a rapid rate.

There are over 3800 sea turtle nests along the Palmetto State coast including 75 nests just on Folly Beach alone.

SDCNR Sea Turtle Specialist Michelle Pate says her department expects to have at least 100 nests by the end of the season. She says that’s far more than is typically found on Folly Beach.

The nests can be found May through October in various stages of the nest-to-hatch cycle.

Pate says sea turtles see humans as predators, meaning even a human getting to close to them to take pictures is seen as a threat. She says just in the month of June alone, Folly Beach Public Safety and SCDNR combined have taken dozens of calls where people say someone is potentially threatening a turtle.

“We’ve got folks interfering with nests and removing nests,” Pate says.

She says two of those complaints were reported straight to her department because they are considered a more extreme threat than other cases.

In once incident, a nest was being dug up. In another incident, someone was trying to put their child on top of a turtle.

“We get folks trying to dig up nests,” Pate says. “Even attempting to put children on top of a turtle going back out to the ocean.”

She says this kind of constant harassment is unlike anything they’ve seen here before and if the harmful behavior pattern continues then the endangered species will fail to survive on Folly Beach.

“I know it’s exciting but stay back and observe from afar let them do their natural process,” Pate says.

Pate asks anyone who sees someone harming a turtle or sees one that seems to be injured to please report it to the SCDNR hotline number. That hotline can be reached at 1-800-922-5431.

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