The Orange Beach Police Department (OBPD) is looking for someone who vandalized a sea turtle nest late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

According to Share the Beach, Alabama’s sea turtle conservation program, someone dug a hole at an angle toward the center of a protected nest between 11 p.m. on Monday and 5 a.m. on Tuesday. This was done in spite of tape, signs and a screen warning that the turtle nest was there.

The Share the Beach program belongs to the Alabama Coastal Foundation. It aims to mitigate the human impact on sea turtles, monitor sea turtle nests on the Alabama Gulf Coast and promote sea turtle conservation.

Share the Beach follows protocols set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under the federal endangered species recovery permit. Share the Beach volunteers help protect sea turtle nesting areas and habitats by patrolling the beach and educating the public.

“Protecting those nests is working towards replenishing that species to a sustainable number to where they don’t need human intervention,” said Share the Beach director Sara Johnson. “The reason that we do that is because human development on the beaches is impacting their nesting habitats, impacting the survival of those nests … Any time something like this happens, it further decreases the success of that nest and the species as well.”

A volunteer discovered the vandalism at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and the OBPD, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the FWS and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources responded.

All sea turtle species, with the exception of the flatback turtle of Australia, are listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Federal Government, and all species are protected by an international treaty.

Sea turtles emerge from the Gulf of Mexico at night from May to the end of October to lay eggs on the beach. They depend on dark, unobstructed beaches in order to do this effectively. Though sea turtles are perceived to be abundant, humans have reduced turtle populations worldwide.

“Sea turtles play a certain role in the marine ecosystem,” said Johnson. “They are essential for healthy seagrass beds and healthy coral reefs.”

According to Share the Beach, tampering with sea turtle nests is a crime punishable by fines of up to $100,000 and jail time.

According to the Alabama Coastal Foundation website, there were 99 nests on Alabama beaches in 2020, which was 13.2% fewer than nests in 2019 and 57.9% fewer than the most active season of 2016. Unusually bad storms led to the destruction of 38 nests.

However, more hatchings made it to the water successfully in 2020 than in 2019.

If you have seen someone within the marked parameter of a nest who is not wearing Share the Beach’s bright green t-shirt, you are asked to call the OBPD at 251-981-9777.

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