Three men under the age of 21 face fines and community service after a sea turtle nest was seen being destroyed on social media over the summer, and state environmental officials are reminding beachgoers to keep their distances from the animals’ nesting sites.

The three young men were visiting Folly Beach this past July — during the height of nesting season — with family when two of the suspects dug up a clearly marked nesting site. The third individual filmed the incident on Snapchat, according to South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

DNR law enforcement received the video and launched an investigation. In the video, the nesting site is undoubtedly marked with highly visible orange tape and nesting site signs used by the Marine Turtle Conservation program staff and volunteers. One of the eggs is seen smashing on the ground in the video, and the suspects attempted to re-bury the eggs, which caused additional harm.

Michelle Pate, the coordinator of SCDNR’s turtle conservation program, used data from the Folly Beach Turtle Watch team to confirm 71 of the 90 eggs at this specific site did not hatch.

After the men were identified and meetings were held with them and their parents, all three voluntarily admitted to disturbing the nest and/or filming the disturbance and acknowledged these actions as illegal.

Two charges of unlawful taking of loggerhead turtle eggs were given to both individuals responsible for digging up the eggs and one charge for the man who captured the incident on film — though the three men could have received one charge for each egg disturbed.

All three individuals could face jail time, up to $2,000 in fines and restitution. The agency is recommending community service with the department’s Marine Turtle Conservation program to demonstrate the level of care that goes into protecting the state’s sea turtles.

The Marine Turtle Conservation program was established in 1977 and now includes more than 1,300 volunteers who work along S.C.’s coast, protecting hatchlings and recording data. As a result of their efforts, sea turtle nesting numbers have begun increasing in recent years.

“Hopefully, giving these individuals a chance to make amends by working with the dedicated staff and volunteers who work with our turtle protection program as a part of the community service component of their punishment will make a lasting impression on them about the importance of this work and why all of us, as South Carolinians, need to support it,” said Col. Chisolm Frampton, deputy director for the DNR law enforcement division, in a press release.

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