GARDEN CITY, S.C. (WBTW) — Suspects are accused of riding and harassing a sea turtle in Garden City, according to a call for service from the Horry County Police Department obtained by News13 Wednesday morning.
Police were called Monday night at about 10:51 p.m. to the area of the Garden City pier for a “large group” who were surrounding and riding a sea turtle, according to the call for service.
“These are threatened and endangered species,” said Ann Wilson, a park ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park. “Green Sea Turtles are protected under state and federal laws.”
Wilson has been a park ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park for more than 20 years. She told News13’s Taylor Hernandez the turtle that was reportedly harassed in Garden City tried to lay eggs at the state park the night before and was met with similar circumstances.
“The story I got from beachgoers is around 2:30 she was up and actively digging her chamber with her back flippers, and she got to be about this deep and then I think there were too many people on the beach at 2:30 — I think they were taking pictures — getting too close and they scared her off and she left,” Wilson said. “She false crawled twice in this park, which means she did not lay eggs.”
After that unsuccessful attempt in Myrtle Beach, the turtle tried to nest in Garden City, which is when a group of people allegedly surrounded her, took photos of her, and even sat on her before leaving the area.
“It’s frustrating and sad because it is not proper behavior for anybody,” Wilson said.
Right now, there are 17 loggerhead sea turtle nests in the state park and about 40 in the county, but there were no Green Sea Turtle nests known of in the state before Monday night.
“People are so excited about sea turtles they forget that they are dealing with a wild animal who is terrified of them,” Wilson said. “People just want to get close, take a photo, have a story, and post it on social media and that is where problems occur.”
Wilson said some photos taken by beachgoers last week were handled the correct way, by staying behind the turtle, not using a flash, and letting park rangers know about the nesting turtle right away.
Wilson’s message to anyone who encounters any sea turtle is to keep a distance, stay quiet, and turn off all lights.
“Here in Horry County, there are so many lights already,” Wilson said. “All the ambient lights from the hotels, street lights and everything else — you don’t need a light out here.”
According to the call for service documents, the turtle was not injured. A description of the suspects has been obtained. The Green Sea turtle did come back up later Monday night and lay 77 eggs, becoming the first Green Sea Turtle next in the state this season.
It is illegal to disturb or harass sea turtles, and violation penalties often accumulate into thousands of dollars.
News13 is working to learn more about what happened. Count on us for updates.