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Deputies, environmentalists worry bonfires on Martin County beaches leave debris, nails, harm sea turtle nests

Illegal bonfires on the rise in Martin County, sheriff's office says
Posted at 7:02 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 19:15:00-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — The Martin County Sheriff's Office is asking beachgoers to stop making bonfires.

The sheriff's office said more people are making fires, breaking local rules and also potentially harming sea turtle nesting.

"It's a nice thing to do when it's cooler outside, just come out and have a nice little evening on the beach with a fire, I understand that," said Chief Deputy John Budensiek.

However, Budensiek added that it is only legal when you obtain a permit through the county.

Deputies took pictures of large wooden pallets that people are dragging onto the beach with the intention of burning them.

Chief Deputy John Budensiek discusses bonfires on beaches
Chief Deputy John Budensiek explains the problems occurring from bonfires on beaches.

"So, we're getting more and more [bonfires]. Our aviation unit and our Jensen Beach units have been patrolling the beaches trying to stay ahead of this and try to make sure the problem doesn't grow anymore than it already is," Budensiek said.

At Santa Lucia Beach on Friday, you could see remnants of bonfires from litter and debris left behind.

Budensiek said there is also concern that the wooden pallets burn, but nails in the pallets end up getting buried in the sand.

"You shouldn't need a tetanus shot to come to the beach in Martin County," Budensiek said.

Mark Perry, the executive director for Florida Oceanographic, said he also worries about how the bonfires impact sea turtle nesting.

Mark Perry, executive director for Florida Oceanographic
Mark Perry says bonfires on beaches can be detrimental for sea turtles trying to lay their eggs.

"The only time sea turtles come on land is to lay their eggs, and we want them to be successful," Perry said.

Nesting season is May through October, but Perry said leatherback sea turtles can start nesting even in February and March.

"The light on the beach from a fire or any flashlight or any kind of light will scare away the nesting female, so she'll look and see that light on the beach, she'll turn away and could abort her eggs offshore," Perry said. "We want to keep the beaches dark."

He also fears people could unknowingly build a fire on top of a nest.

"Just be conscious of keeping that beach as dark, flat and clean during this time of year," Perry said.