Alex Martinez was surveying sea turtle nests in Miami Beach early Monday morning when a beachgoer flagged him down. On the shoreline at Tenth Street was a 300-pound loggerhead turtle, dead in the sand near a freshly laid nest. A closer look at the nest revealed tire tracks and boot prints.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is still investigating, but some residents were quick to point out that driving is banned on the beach: Only emergency and city vendor vehicles are allowed. Which raises an obvious question: Did a city employee run over the nest and then drive away from the scene?
Miami Beach spokesperson Melissa Berthier says that immediately after learning about the incident, the city sent everyone with permission to drive on the beach a notice reminding them it's sea turtle season and asking them to be careful. But she says the city is waiting for FWC to finish its investigation before taking further action, adding there's a chance someone else might have been driving a vehicle or ATV on the beach illegally.
"Once we have a cause of death and the full report, we will begin an internal investigation, if necessary," Berthier wrote in an email to New Times. "In the interim, we reached out to both the Miami-Dade County Sea Turtle Program staff and to FWC to request as much information as possible and to offer our assistance with their investigation."
Loggerhead sea turtles, which nest from March to October, are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. State and federal laws make it illegal to interfere with a turtle or its nest without FWC authorization.
The City of Miami Beach sends out information on how to protect the sea turtle population each year as nesting season gets underway, Berthier says.
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Local activist Michael DeFilippi, who runs Clean Up Miami Beach on Facebook, says more should be done, including sea turtle protection training for anyone allowed to drive on the beach.
"I don't feel at the city level that we put enough resources into making sure they're really protected," he says. "What I want to come out of this is something policy-wise to change so there is greater protection."
The sea turtle found Monday morning appeared to have only minor injuries, including a wound on her shoulder and damage to her shell, according to a standing report from FWC. No cause of death has been determined: She was otherwise healthy and appeared to have just laid the nearby nest. That nest and another in the area had been run over.
FWC is expected to complete its final report by early next week, Berthier says.