GARDEN CITY, S.C. (WBTW) — A group of beachgoers is accused of riding and harassing a sea turtle in South Carolina, according to police.

Police were called Monday night at about 10:51 p.m. to the area of the Garden City pier over a “large group” of people who were surrounding and riding a sea turtle, according to a call for service from the Horry County Police Department.

“These are threatened and endangered species,” said Ann Wilson, a park ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park. “Green sea turtles are protected under state and federal laws.”

Wilson, a park ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park for more than 20 years, told WFXR’s sister station WBTW that the turtle tried to lay eggs at the state park the night before and was met with similar circumstances.

“The story I got from beachgoers is around 2:30, she was up and actively digging her chamber with her back flippers, and she got to be about this deep, and then I think there were too many people on the beach at 2:30 — I think they were taking pictures, getting too close — and they scared her off and she left,” Wilson said. “She false crawled twice in this park, which means she did not lay eggs.”

After that unsuccessful attempt in Myrtle Beach, the turtle tried to nest in Garden City, which is when a group of people allegedly surrounded her, took photos of her, and even sat on her before leaving the area.

“It’s frustrating and sad because it is not proper behavior for anybody,” Wilson said.

Right now, there are 17 loggerhead sea turtle nests in the state park and about 40 in the county, but there were no known green sea turtle nests in the state before Monday night.

“People are so excited about sea turtles they forget that they are dealing with a wild animal who is terrified of them,” Wilson said. “People just want to get close, take a photo, have a story, and post it on social media, and that is where problems occur.”

Wilson said some photos taken by beachgoers last week were handled the correct way, by staying behind the turtle, not using a flash, and letting park rangers know about the nesting turtle right away.

Wilson says anyone who encounters a sea turtle should keep a distance, stay quiet, and turn off all lights.

“Here in Horry County, there are so many lights already,” Wilson said. “All the ambient lights from the hotels, street lights and everything else — you don’t need a light out here.”

According to the call for service documents, the turtle was not injured. A description of the suspects has been obtained. The green sea turtle came back up later Monday night and laid 77 eggs, becoming the first green sea turtle nest in the state this season.

It is illegal to disturb or harass sea turtles, and violation penalties often accumulate into thousands of dollars.

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