Try not to hide in your shell during sea turtle season

Know S. Fla’s rules for turtle nesting season

A bunch of us fishing-doers were whooping it up the other night at the Fish or Cut Bait Society when Tyro the new guy called and reminded us that sea turtle nesting season had begun on the beaches of South Florida.

That wasn’t the first thing he said. This is: “I’m in jail!”

Tiller, who’s chairman of the steering committee, asked him what for.

“Disturbing a sea turtle nest,” Tyro said. “It was an accident. I was fishing on the beach and tripped over the d--- thing in the dark. How is that a crime? I need a lawyer. Is Counsel there? He isn’t answering his phone.”

Counsel, a lawyer as well as a fishing-doer, was here but his phone was turned off. Tiller clicked his to speaker mode so all of us could hear the story. So much for attorney-client privilege, eh?

Even though Counsel’s law practice is limited to overtime parking violations, as an avid outdoorsman he knows that at this time of the year birds lay their eggs on beaches by day and sea turtles waddle out of the ocean by night to nest on beaches.

We are supposed to stay out of their way.

No, we are required to stay out of their way.

It might seem like a lot to ask, but sometimes you have to go out of your way to avoid stepping on somebody else’s eggs.

Turtle nests usually have those stakes and yellow ribbons wrapped around them, but they don’t do that for birds. Trying not to step on their nests is like, well, walking on eggs.

Counsel knows all that. So should seashell stoopers, bikini body gawkers and surf fishing-doers who walk the beaches in daylight.

He knows too, as everyone should, that turtles prefer to lay their eggs in the dark (so do you; admit it). For reasons that may be known but not to him, they tend to waddle all the way up the slope even if that’s near the edge of the passing road. (You don’t, do you?)

It might be very dark there, because the Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission admonishes everyone in normally lit-up beach areas to go dim in nesting season. Of course everyone yells, “We will obey!”

We all should know that disturbing a nest is an offense, although not really a crime if it’s an accident.

Sometimes it is a crime. There’s a guy somewhere up the coast with a record of disturbing a lot of nests, stealing the eggs, eventually getting caught and being sentenced to prison.

I forget his name but if he’s out already, we’ll probably be reminded of it pretty soon.

In the meantime, we have the hapless but factually innocent Tyro. He’ll have to do.

You’re probably thinking there also are some humans who nest on the beaches in the dark, and that Tyro’s lucky he didn’t trip over them instead.

Well, he has at times, and with turbulent results. He needed a paramedic and a faceful of band-aids one of those times, though never a lawyer until now.

“Did you slug a cop or something?” Counsel asked Tyro. “I don’t think they jail people for tripping over a turtle nest. It shouldn’t get you anything worse than a ticket and a fine that’s high enough to remember so you’ll be more careful to not do it again. Now calm down and tell us what happened.”

Tyro said he had been fishing and was walking blindly back up the beach in pitch darkness. One of his feet snagged on one of those wooden stakes that volunteers stick around turtle nests to protect them from oafs like Tyro, Tyro fell on his face.

“Ooof!” he cried, as comic strip characters often do when they trip and fall.

“We got one!” several unseen voices shouted.

“Seize him! Lock him up! Help, murder, police!”

We realized that was a posse of turtle protection volunteers, maybe the same ones who had staked off the turtle nest. They would have done that in daylight, you know, when they could see what they were doing. They are an earnest, docile, ordinarily soft-spoken lot, but our kind are unlikely to set them off by disturbing a turtle nest even by mistake.

Well, any of us except Tyro.

He learned the hard way that if anyone messes with a nest, one of those posses may leap out from unseen lairs, shouting Gotcha! and surrounding him menacingly until uniformed men and women arrive and still the tumult.

Forces for good in the community encourage turtle posses to do no physical harm when they catch a nest disturber. Fine, but if there’s a rule against non-violently scaring one out of his wits, it wasn’t there last time I looked.

Tyro, surrounded in the dark, was rather rattled. Okay, truthfully, he was freaked out of his mind. “This is a witch hunt!” he shouted over the phone.

“I demand justice! What happened to innocent ‘til proven guilty?”

Tyro was blubbering. Counsel told him again to calm down. We heard a woman’s voice ordering Tyro to hand over his phone.

“Illegal search and seizure!” we heard him say. “Hey! Give it back.”

The woman’s voice spoke to us: “This is Officer Gaviota. Your friend is in temporary protective custody at the police station, not in jail. He isn’t in a cell or formally under arrest.

“Mr. Tyro was so scared, and the crowd around him so scary, that I pretended to arrest him just to get him out of there.

“I’m not even giving him a ticket — just a written warning that says he shouldn’t trip over a turtle nest again.”

Counsel said Tyro knows he shouldn’t do that.

“Yeah, I know he knows but when we stop someone, we have to account for it some way in writing,” said Officer Gaviota. “A warning notice is the easiest.

“You want to help him? Tell me how to calm him down. I can’t let him drive home in this frantic condition. We gave him a lollipop, but I don’t think it helped.”

Counsel said a second lollipop, preferably chocolate, should do the trick.

Tyro overheard him and shouted that he was okay now about the turtle nest, but worried crazy about his rod and reel.

“In a panic, I dropped them on the sand,” he said. “Did someone steal them? Are they still there? What if someone stepped on the rod and broke it? Alas! Alackaday!”

Officer Gaviota sounded deeply affected. We overheard her trying to comfort Tyro as if he were a trembling, whimpering dog frightened by a thunderstorm.

“There, there, poor baby, good boy, it’s going to be all right. Settle down and I’ll walk you back to the beach and help you find your rod and reel.

“Just knock off the melodrama, okay?”