Chinese national Yaqun Lu, 41, was arrested on Saturday for endangering a sea turtle nest in a protected beach area of Miami Beach. Lu allegedly used one of the stakes that marked off the protected area to “jab” at the nest, and was also seen “stomping all over” it according to a statement from the local police department.
According to ABC News, Lu’s actions constitute a third-degree felony, and her bond is held at $5,000. No court date information has been made immediately available.
If found guilty, she could face up to five years in jail.
Sea turtles dig “nests,” like the one Lu allegedly disturbed, on beaches where they lay their eggs — as many as 120 at a time — during nesting season. Miami Beach is home to the highest percentage of U.S. sea turtle nestings, up to 70% of the country’s total, the Washington Post reported. Between May and October, Miami Beach hosts a multitude of sea turtle nestings, including those of three threatened species — the Loggerhead, Leatherback, and Green sea turtles.
A local Miami website calls their beaches a “critical nesting habitat for these threatened creatures,” and much local attention is paid to the species’ conservation and protection.
Florida has enacted laws to protect the endangered turtles and their nesting sites through Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act. The turtles are also protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Lu’s alleged actions would be in violation of both mandates.
Threats to the survival of sea turtles include human beach activity, commercial fishing, marine debris, artificial lighting, and beach erosion, among others, according to a non-profit Sea Turtle Conservation website based in Florida. In 2015, Stephanie Moore, 20, was arrested in Melbourne, Florida, after posting photos of herself riding a sea turtle, which constituted an abuse of the endangered species.
Officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission later inspected the nest and declared the eggs unharmed, according to a local Miami TV station. The police department tweeted their relief: “Thankfully, it appears the eggs were not damaged.” The statement appears alongside a picture of a baby sea turtle and the words “Do Not Disturb. Baby turtles in the making!”