FWC: Contractor ran over active sea turtle nests, left an oil spill on Marco Island

Chad Gillis
Fort Myers News-Press
Tracks from heavy machinery apparently crushed this marked sea turtle nest on a Marco Island beach. Sea turtle nests are protected by state and federal laws.

A Marco Island beach is being investigated after a contractor ran over multiple sea turtle nests during a beach rebuilding project, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Photos sent to FWC show heavy equipment tracks over the top of sea turtle nests, which were marked with wooden stakes and yellow tape. There are also reports of dead sea turtles there.

"On May 16, 2023, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers were notified of destruction of a marked potential sea turtle nesting site by an all-terrain vehicle involved in a construction project on Sand Dollar Island in Collier County," said Arielle Callender, spokeswoman for FWC.

Ahtna Marine and Construction Company of Pompano Beach is the contractor for this berm, which is on Hideaway Beach, a company representative confirmed Friday.

The company did not have an immediate comment on the incident, however.

The photos also show what appears to be a car-size oil spill on the beach.

"Marco Island city officials halted work on the project when alerted, and FWC biologists and partners were able to assess the damage," Callender said. "The area has been staked off and increased sea turtle monitoring is in place. This is an active investigation and no further information is available at this time."

Sea turtles and their nests are protected

Florida is home to a large percentage of the world's loggerhead sea turtle nest sites. The animals are protected by state and federal laws, and it's illegal to disturb a sea turtle nest.

Hundreds of sea turtle nests are created each summer in Southwest Florida as the adult turtles return to their home waters to produce then next generation.

Brad Cornell, Southwest Florida policy associate for Audubon of the Western Everglades, sent FWC a series of photos showing the damage.

This sludge-like material is apparently oil that was spilled from heavy machinery working on a Marco Island beach.n(Photo: Audubon of the Western Everglades)

"While the contractor’s permit has an allowance for incidental 'take' of sea turtles and lost nesting due to construction, it does not allow for running over nests by vehicles with caution tape which is negligence," Cornell wrote in a letter to FWC.

The photos show heavy machine tracks going over what looks like compressed sea turtle nests as well as the oil spill.

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Cornells said in the email that up to 20 female loggerheads crawled up the beach, hit the sand distribution pipe and turned around. It's called a false crawl, but 20 at one time is unheard of.

The tracks of one female sea turtle were seen above the piping, but it appears that someone was able to lift the turtle and place it back on the Gulf side of the pipe so it could return to the water.

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