Turtle nest Florida 2015-07-20
Turtle nests in Florida are protected with wooden stakes and tape. Image: Robert S. Donovan

Monitoring turtle nests might not seem like a dangerous occupation compared to armed combat, but for one Vietnam War veteran in Florida, a day on turtle-watch duty ended with a gunshot injury last week. 

Former Marine Stan Pannaman was volunteering for a local turtle conservation group in the town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea last Friday when he was caught up in a violent confrontation with an agitated man who attempted to destroy the nests under Pannaman's watch.  

"I hate sea turtle people. You're all f---ing crazy," the allegedly inebriated man shouted at Pannaman as the war vet took up his turtle post for the evening, along with South Florida Audubon Society president, Doug Young.

The duo ignored the abuse and moved to another part of the beach, which is when the man took things up a notch, tearing down the tape and wooden stakes used to demarcate nest sites, before disturbing the sand where eggs had been laid. Sea turtles are protected by law and populations are declining, so tampering with nests in any way is strictly prohibited.

When Pannaman and Young informed the man that he was breaking the law, he responded by taking a swing at Young before turning his attention to Pannaman, unaware that the combat vet was armed. 

The situation only escalated from there, with Pannaman's attacker pouncing and gouging the veteran's face before wrestling his gun away and shooting Pannaman in the abdomen. According to reports, the drunk man mistook the .32 caliber pistol for a flare gun.

“He asked me 'Are you alright?'" Pannaman recalls. "I looked at him and I said 'No, I'm not alright. You just shot me.'"

Authorities arrived shortly after the incident and arrested the shooter, who's being detained at a local jail. Pannaman has since been released from hospital.

No turtles were injured in the ordeal.