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Stolen sea turtles' eggs fuel illicit market (Loggerhead sea turtles)

Discussion in 'Sea turtles' started by Cowboy_Ken, Oct 25, 2015.

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  1. Cowboy_Ken

    Cowboy_Ken Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Stolen sea turtles' eggs fuel illicit market (Loggerhead sea turtles)

    By The Associated Press, Oct. 24, 2015

    SAVANNAH, Ga. — Less than two years after he was released from prison, Lewis Jackson found authorities waiting for him as he boarded a ferry boat on remote Sapelo Island while carrying a cooler full of contraband valued by some as a mythical aphrodisiac.

    Inside the cooler investigators found plastic bags filled with the ping-pong ball-size eggs of loggerhead sea turtles, reptiles protected by the Endangered Species Act. Stealing eggs of the threatened species is a federal crime.

    Jackson was arrested July 7 in coastal Georgia with 84 sea turtle eggs swiped from a turtle nest on the barrier island's unspoiled beach. Authorities knew to look for him because it wasn't his first offense. He had served six months in federal prison for pleading guilty to stealing 156 loggerhead eggs in May 2012.

    Now Jackson, 60, could return to prison for up to five years. He's scheduled for sentencing by a U.S. District Court judge Wednesday after he pleaded guilty in August to what was nearly a carbon copy of his earlier crime.

    “After he was captured the first time, we thought, ‘What are the chances of that ever happening again?' ” said Mark Dodd, a wildlife biologist who heads the sea turtle recovery program for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

    Sea turtle conservationists say egg poaching is fairly rare along the beaches where sea turtles dig nests from the Carolinas to Florida and across the Gulf Coast to Texas. But new cases every year or two indicate there's still an underground market for the eggs fueled by folklore that consuming them improves sexual performance.

    “Fishermen in the Caribbean would commonly see mating sea turtles, and often when they mate, they stay together for a long time — for hours on end,” Dodd said. “So this whole sort of myth developed that if you eat a turtle egg, you get some of this extra manliness in your life.”

    Dodd said Jackson confessed to boiling his turtle eggs in water seasoned with cayenne pepper and selling them at parties and bars as party favors.

    It's an illicit novelty that's more common in Caribbean countries, but has found a small cultural foothold in the United States, said David Godfrey, executive director of the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy.

    “It clearly exists in places like Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where you can go into bars and cantinas and there's someone selling turtle eggs,” Godfrey said. “They'll drop it into a shot or suck it down and take it with a shot.”

    Selling stolen sea turtle eggs does not appear to be terribly lucrative, though official estimates of their worth vary wildly. In the Georgia case, federal prosecutors said loggerhead eggs fetch up to $25 apiece. Prosecutors in a similar case in Florida last year estimated their value at $3 to $5 per egg.

    The federal Fish and Wildlife Service was unable to say how many turtle egg thefts have been prosecuted in recent years, but cases are considered rare.

    Last year, Kenneth Cornelius Coleman was sentenced to two years in federal prison for pleading guilty to stealing 310 sea turtle eggs from nests in Juno Beach, Fla. Authorities in Folly Beach, S.C., reported more than 100 eggs stolen in the summer of 2012, but the theft went unsolved.

    Godfrey said egg thefts are infrequent enough that he does not consider them a great threat to sea turtles' survival. But he said poaching could become more popular if thieves see it as low-risk.

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