This is a letter I wrote today to a member of our (Oak Island, NC) town council and mayor. I posted it here as an open letter to all members of the town council and residents of Oak Island…
Good morning Mrs. Bell and Mrs. Brochure. I am writing today to request your help in providing protection to the volunteers that make up the Oak Island Sea Turtle Protection Program. Through federal and state law, and local ordinances, we have excellent protection for the sea turtles that many of us work very hard to protect.
That is great, but what we are lacking seems to be legal protection for the volunteers that perform this work. I am referring currently to an incident last night (8/21) that I experienced while working on a nest at 10th Place West, where we had 2 intoxicated men smoking cigars and harassing the female volunteers. I stepped in to redirect their attention towards me, and after several minutes of “lively” confrontation, their wives talked them into leaving and we continued with our work of handling the hatching turtles in relative peace. I say relative, because we had at least one woman who refused to turn off her cell phone when requested (a very common problem), creating additional white light that can confuse and disorient the turtles. The 2 men previously mentioned also made it a point when they returned to the rental home near the nest to turn on their very bright back porch light. We were too busy at that point with the turtles to call police or request help. To make matters worse, one of the men claimed to be a game warden, though I highly doubt that claim.
The previous nest a few weeks ago, there was also a drunk kid causing problems. He was well past the “do not cross line” we had established, and was carelessly walking around the area while over 100 hatchlings were scattered around and trying to make their way to the ocean. I was able to remove him myself, and avoid stepping on any turtles, but during this time all volunteers are extremely busy and taking time to deal with issues like this is unsafe, for both the volunteers and turtles.
What I am requesting is that the town create new ordinances for the protection of our volunteers. This should include harassment of volunteers, failure to follow directions, harassing or bothering volunteers or others trying to enjoy to the hatching process, and generally being a nuisance during the very busy 30-60 minutes of active hatching. I did not have time last night to call the police or I would have, the turtles were already out of the nest and making their way to the water when we started having problems with some of the guests. It would be nice to have a police officer present during any hatching, but I feel that having at least town ordinances with financial penalties may suffice. A warning to visitors about the ordinances may be enough to settle them down.
I work with the police department issuing parking and beach violations for town ordinances on a part time basis. On my nests, I could write violations if the ordinances existed, though I realize this is not a viable solution for all the other nests. And, of course, I could not write them anyway while I am busy with my volunteer work of getting the turtles to the water. They would have to be issued after the turtles are safely in the ocean. But a police officer could write those citations, as well as handle more serious matters such as intoxication and communicating threats.
I hope you will take my suggestions seriously before we end up having a serious problem involving our volunteers. I believe we need just a little “teeth”, an actionable ordinance that we can use to educate our visitors, and punish when needed.
Thank you both for your time,