A housekeeper at the Admiral’s Inn found the loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings in a water-filled bin and then contacted police on July 24, according to a Tybee Island police report.
Five months later, Danielle Tosh, 24, and Michael House, 42, have been fined $930 each in connection with the incident, according to Barry Paschal, public affairs officer at the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
Tosh and House were charged for “taking a threatened species,” which is a federal criminal offense under the Endangered Species Act, Paschal said. Those who violate the act could face fines up to $25,000 per violation.
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“They were each fined for the incident as a whole, not per turtle,” Paschal said. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents investigated the incident and noted that the couple did not show any intention of harming or selling the loggerhead hatchlings, according to Paschal.
“They found it was a low-level offense, still very serious, but low level,” Paschal said. “Also, when it comes to fines you can get at the beach, it’s pretty high.”
For instance, the fine for having a dog on a Tybee Island Beach is $290.
Paschal mentioned that neither of the tourists had prior incidents, which likely contributed to the lower fine. He said Tosh and House have not yet paid the fine, but could go to court if they decide to contest the charges.
Tosh and House also admitted they were drinking when they saw the hatchlings headed toward the ocean and “placed them in a cup, and took them to the room,” the police report said. The couple told police they saw other people trying to pick up the baby sea turtles and thought they were protecting the animals.
“As far was we know, all six of the sea turtles survived,” Paschal said.
At the time of the incident, five of the sea turtles were placed back into the ocean and one of the turtles, later named Admiral, was sent to the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.
Brenda Marion, communications coordinator for the center, said Admiral is “doing great” and recently moved to a larger tank.
Marion said officials at the center were “a little disheartened” the two tourists weren’t fined more for the “very rare incident.”
When the incident was first reported in July, the story sparked a firestorm of angry commenters on Facebook demanding that the tourists face punishment for the crime.
“As if baby sea turtles don’t have enough going against them with the laws of nature... just in order to survive ...then there are people as careless as these. Very very sad,” one commenter wrote.
“I hope they get the full fine. Idiot tourists coming to visit and having NO respect for our wildlife. Much less endangered species. I’m disgusted,” another commenter said on Facebook.
In 2017, a Florida man was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating the Endangered Species Act after he lifted a sea turtle out of the water and took photos with it, according to WPLG news station.
Loggerhead sea turtles were first listed as a threatened species since 1978 and have been protected under federal law ever since.