Florida woman charged with felony for allegedly riding sea turtle

(Reuters) - A 20-year-old Florida woman was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of riding a sea turtle on the beach in photos that went viral on social media in early July, police said.

Stephanie Moore, of Melbourne, faces a felony charge of possessing, selling, or molesting a marine turtle or eggs nest, a violation of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rules, according to a statement by the Melbourne Police Department.

She was booked into the Brevard County Jail at around 7 a.m. and remained there on Saturday afternoon in lieu of a $2,000 bond, according to jail records.

Moore was one of two young women whose photos showed up on Facebook in early July, in which they appeared to be riding a turtle on the beach, police said.

"These pictures flooded social media networks and eventually multiple complaints were forwarded to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who handled the criminal investigation," the statement said.

The second woman has been identified by authorities but has not been arrested, said David Hochberg, chairman of the board of the Florida-based nonprofit Sea Turtle Preservation Society.

Moore was arrested early on Saturday after police responded to a call about a disturbance at a home in Melbourne, the statement said.

When police arrived, they encountered Moore and found out she had a felony warrant related to the turtle incident, the statement said.

The state wildlife commission protects the state's five species of marine turtles, which officials say are vulnerable due to illegal harvesting, habitat encroachment, and pollution.

"Sea turtles, which are among the oldest creatures on earth, have remained essentially unchanged for 110 million years," the commission's website reads. "However, they face an uncertain future."

Four of the five species are considered endangered, and the loggerhead turtle featured in the photographs is listed as threatened, Hochberg said.

On Saturday, the society posted news of the arrest on its Facebook page, a post that had been shared nearly 600 times by early afternoon.

Hochberg said he was glad to see authorities enforcing the laws and hoped Moore would get a punishment that would "sting a bit" and perhaps inspire her to advocate for the turtles.

"I do hope that there are some kind of penalties levied against her to where she realizes that what she did was not only stupid but wrong," Hochberg said.


(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Sandra Maler)