The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources is investigating after video shows a man grabbing an endangered sea turtle on Hawaii Island.
It happened at Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo. A witness tells us that the man was harassing the turtle even before he jumped in the water, which is why the witness started recording the incident.
Hawaiian green sea turtles are protected by state and federal law, so it is illegal to touch them or harass them, yet state officials say it happens more often than we think.
What makes this latest incident more disturbing was there were children around, and adults seemed to be setting a bad example.
Royal Carroll says the man who jumped in the water started grabbing the turtle while he was on the shore with his family.
“They had small children with them and I thought it was just another couple showing their kids, and the guy reached out and grabbed the turtle by its rear fin and started pulling it out of the water and he and the woman were laughing,” Carroll said.
He adds that the man and the woman with him then started talking about riding the sea turtle.
“That’s when I pulled my camera out. I thought it was pretty outlandish. He jumped in the water, and when he grabbed the turtle the second time, I couldn’t sit back and just let him do whatever he was going to do to it, so I spoke up,” Carroll said.
Carroll filed a formal complaint with the Department of Land and Natural Resources. An official says complaints about sea turtles getting harassed come in practically every day.
“What we see a lot of times is tourists, tourists and other folks as well, try to get close to them, try to touch them, try to ride them, which we really don’t like. The interaction should be minimal. It should be a natural interaction,” said Robert Farrell, Conservation Resources Enforcement Chief with DLNR.
Farrell says the state tries to educate the public about staying away from sea turtles through the different tour companies and the airlines. Volunteers are also stationed at popular beaches.
Whether the turtles are out on the beach or swimming in the water, people are advised to stay at least 10 feet away and avoid sudden movements.
“There are several turtles that are on the endangered species list, so any interaction that disturbs their natural behavior could potentially be detrimental to the survival of the species,” Farrell said.
The penalty for harassing a sea turtle ranges from $1,000 up to $10,500. The state points that the video alone is not enough to prosecute the offender. Someone has to file an official complaint and be willing to testify.
Anyone who sees sea turtles or other endangered species being harmed is asked to call the state at 643-DLNR.