Florida man arrested for stealing sea turtle eggs

FWC officer inspects turtle eggs
CC BY-ND 2.0 Florida Fish and Wildlife

He's given a whole new meaning to "poached eggs."

A Florida man was arrested last Friday after officials caught him poaching loggerhead sea turtle eggs from a beach in Jupiter Island. According to the Facebook page of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), law enforcement received a tip that an individual was taking eggs from the beach early last week. FWC increased surveillance in the area, catching the suspect after only a few days. The man, later identified as 49-year-old Glenn Robert Shaw of Tequesta, Florida, possessed 107 loggerhead turtle eggs at the time of his arrest. FWC biologists reburied 92 of the eggs in the hope that they would still hatch, but 15 were kept by law enforcement for evidence.

Shaw faces up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 for stealing the eggs, which is a third-degree felony. Captain Jeff Ardelean of the FWC told CBS12 that sea turtle eggs can reach up to $30 per dozen on the black market. “They're actually stealing the raw eggs to eat them and in a lot of cultures around [the] Caribbean it's legal. You can go to some countries and actually buy eggs,” Ardelean explained. Turtle eggs are also believed by some people to be an aphrodisiac.

Egg poaching is not very common in Florida, but it can still pose a threat to turtle populations. Many species of sea turtles, such as leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles, are endangered, and loggerhead sea turtles have been classified as a threatened species since 1978. FWC considers illegal harvesting to be detrimental to the survival of loggerheads, especially when turtle populations are already damaged by pollution and habitat encroachment. Organizations like FWC strive to protect turtles from human threats and have initiated programs to preserve their habitats, particularly during nesting seasons.

Loggerhead sea turtles begin nesting in April, but their nesting season peaks in the summer, specifically in June and July. To construct a nest, the female loggerhead will dig a pit in the dry section of the beach with her flippers. She lays 100-126 eggs in a single nest and then covers the pit with sand to disguise it before returning to the ocean. Female turtles can nest up to seven times within a single nesting season. On average, they make about four nests per season, as nesting is a strenuous and time-consuming process.

Baby loggerheads hatch after about two months, leaving the nest as a group in a dash towards the ocean. Along the way, many of them are killed by predators like crabs and birds, die of dehydration, or are thrown off course by humans walking on the beach. Even after they reach the water, sea turtles can still be eaten by large fish, and polluted ocean water is a major killer of baby turtles. Only about 0.1% of loggerhead sea turtles survive into adulthood.

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