SARASOTA COUNTY - Wildlife officials are looking for a man they say may be stealing sea turtle eggs. It happened two weeks ago on Casey Key. They say someone even snapped a photo of the guy in the act.
Investigators are now asking for the public's help.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is looking for the man captured in the photos, which were taken by a woman on the beach as she questioned why it appeared he was taking turtle eggs.
"At the same time in a somewhat covert manner took her phone out and took some pictures," says FWC Investigator Scott Kirsch.
The unidentified woman told officials the incident happened on August 13th; saying the man claimed that where he is from they collect them to let them hatch and then release.
Here in Florida however, "It's a pretty serious offense. These are protected species. It's a third degree felony." Punishable with a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Those we found on the beach Thursday, like Bob Kolosa, are upset. "I am shocked that in this day and age someone would try to disrupt the turtles."
Visiting from New Jersey, Janet Buba is also concerned. "I don't understand why someone would actually do something like that. I would think they did not understand English or were after their own monetary gain."
In some cultures the eggs are considered a delicacy.
Those who patrol the beaches there daily, like biologist Sarah Hirsch with Mote Marine Laboratory, work hard to help out the little guys. She says messing with eggs is rare. "It was surprising for us to find out."
In 2012 there were record numbers of nests. This year Mote has reported more than 2,200 Loggerhead nests, of which around 900 were on Casey Key. Also more Green Turtle nests then in years past.
Hirsch says they are still busy trying to educate people on basically just keeping things out of their way and staying out of their way. "We are always out here talking with the public and getting them engaged. That is the best way to get people on your side is to educate them about the turtles."
Volunteers, patrollers, law enforcement, and even just someone with a cell phone camera; a lot of people are looking out for our annual visitors because it's just tough being a turtle. "It's nice to know there are people who will be that additional set of eyes for law enforcement. Help protect the resources. I just encourage people that if they see something they are unsure of then call us. Don't put yourself in harm’s way."
If you know anything about this case you are urged to call the FWC. You can call toll free 24 hours a day at 1-888-404-3922.