Environmental crimes haven’t been far from the headlines recently. From children kicking a baby hedgehog in the UK, to the increasingly dangerous plastic waste crisis in the South China sea and elsewhere, environmental crimes are now being taken more seriously than ever. With the public more aware of the threats of the environmental plastic crisis and global climate crisis, more people than ever are trying to do their best to encourage and promote environmental sustainability. And animal welfare crimes are generating more public interest and outcry than ever before. One of the biggest issues in environmental and animal welfare is the impact of tourism. And Miami Beach is no exception.
A woman from China, on holiday in Florida was arrested in Miami Beach after stomping on a nest of sea turtle eggs. Yaqun Lu, aged 41, was arrested and charged with marine turtle or egg molestation or harassment following the incident.
Both witnesses and Miami Beach police officers reported that they saw Ms. Lu jabbing and prodding at a nest of sea turtle eggs with a wooden stake. She was later seen jumping and stomping on the eggs with her bare feet.
The incident has left many wondering what could motivate her actions aside from sheer malice. Turtles bury their eggs on the beach, waiting for newly hatched turtles to migrate back to the sea after hatching. Luckily, in this instance, the eggs were unharmed, according to Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez, who spoke to the Miami Herald.
Miami beach is used as a nesting ground for three species of turtle. Loggerhead, Green and Leatherback turtles all nest on Miami beaches throughout April to November. Therefore, authorities regularly cordon off the nesting area – 500 block – using a double perimeter of wooden stakes and yellow tape. They also marked the area with a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign to discourage beach users from approaching the nest and to allow the eggs to hatch undisturbed.
What does the law say?
Under the law of Florida and the US Endangered Species Act of 1973, it is a felony to harm or harass sea turtles and their eggs. According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), many species of sea turtles are considered an endangered species, due to the historic practice of killing turtles for their meat, eggs, skin and shells.
Sea turtle poaching is on the decline, but other environmental factors such as turtles becoming tangled in fishing nets and plastic waste are also having a big negative impact on sea turtle numbers and survival.
What risks are there to sea turtles?
Turtle nesting sites are also negatively impacted by climate change. As temperatures rise due to Global Warming, sand temperatures increase, which affects the sex of turtle hatch-lings. Habitat destruction by mass fishing and industrial ocean pollution has also caused a marked decline in the numbers of sea turtles reported in open water and coast lines.
Artificial lighting on the roadside beside beach nesting sites also hinders the progress of the baby sea turtles. As turtles make their way down the beach towards the sea, bright artificial lighting away from the ocean can confuse the turtles and hinder their progress as they turn away from the ocean and towards the brightly lit street.
Since sea turtles play a vital role in the ocean’s ecosystem, their endangered species status is particularly concerning. Amongst playing other key roles in balancing the ecosystems of open waters, turtles’ principle diet consists of eating jellyfish. Without them, we would see a large increase of jellyfish in oceans and washing up to shorelines.
What did the public think?
The incident seen as cruel, unnecessary and malicious, has resulted in a mass public outcry on Twitter. As well as condemning Ms. Lu’s actions, her behaviour has sparked much debate over the controversial market for endangered animal parts in parts of central and east Asia. Shark fin soup and turtle soup are particularly controversial delicacies of some regions.
Additionally, some users expressed more general concerns regarding the policing of wildlife and environmental crimes. Many users expressed concern regarding over-fishing and the pollution of the South China Sea, as well as other oceans, which has vast and complex implications for ocean species and environmental sustainability.
Ms. Lu was released from jail after paying the initial 10% of a $75,000 penalty bond. However, it is now reported that she is back in jail having attempted to leave the country to travel to Panama without paying the full bond.