A Melbourne, Florida woman was arrested on Saturday after photographs of her sitting on a sea turtle in July went viral online.
According to the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, Melbourne is part of a 20-mile stretch of beach along Florida’s east-central coast that “is home to the most important sea turtle nesting habitat in the United States.”
Melbourne police arrested 20-year-old Stephanie Moore after they were called to a fight taking place in on the 600 block of Espanola Way.
During their investigation, police found Moore, who had an active arrest warrant for failing to comply with a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission rule.
The warrant charged the woman with “possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, selling, transference, molestation, and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs” – a felony.
Police say the warrant was issued after she was positively identified as one of the women in photographs that went viral on social media in July showing two females sitting on the backs of sea turtles.
Several complaints were filed and forwarded to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, who then opened up a criminal investigation into the case, police say.
Moore was arrested and booked into the Brevard County Jail and is being held on a $2,000 bond.
Sea turtles are considered endangered and are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 and Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act.
Sea Turtle Conservancy says an estimated 90% of the creatures in the United States call Melbourne home, which is why civic leaders go to great lengths to both protect sea turtles and to educate people about them.
“People can live and play on important sea turtle nesting beaches without significantly affecting nesting success,” the groups website says. “But it requires a well-informed public that is committed to behaving in a manner that doesn’t harm nesting turtles or their nests.”