Federal wildlife officials investigating baby sea turtle disturbance in Sarasota

Videos show woman shining light on hatchlings
Posted at 5:49 PM, Aug 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-23 17:10:00-04

A woman disturbing dozens of baby sea turtles on Longboat Key in Sarasota could face serious punishment. 

It was all caught on video and posted to to the social media app Snapchat. 

Federal officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are now reviewing the videos allegedly taken by Stephanie Rushing, of Orlando. 

"It's against the law," said Simona Ceriani, a research scientist with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. "It's harassment, it's an endangered species." 

A series of Snapchat videos show a bright cell phone light shining down over dozens of hatchlings - struggling to find their way offshore. 

Artificial light causes disorientation and will oftentimes send hatchlings in the wrong direction. 

Unnecessary light can be fatal - as baby sea turtles mistake it for the moon.

"This video in particular is just an example, you may not think it's a problem but it is because the light is one of the main cue for the hatching used to find the ocean," said Ceriani. 

The woman later picks up a baby sea turtle and she shows it off to the camera while it squirms in her hand. 

FWC calling this a serious wildlife violation that can jeopardize a baby sea turtle's life. 

"They have a very limited amount of energy that's available and every little bit of that energy is critical for them to reach offshore," said Ceriani. "They need to escape a predator and they need to get to the water as fast as possible."

FWC officials say the case is now being reviewed by federal officials but did say Rushing could face a hefty fine or be charged criminally with the possibility of jail time.