Egg thieves hit at least five nests in recent weeks.
Wildlife officials in Naples Florida are dealing with something troubling. Sea turtle egg thieves.
"Someone has been coming to take the eggs immediately after the female turtle laid them," harbor master Cpt. Roger Jacobsen told the Naples Daily News.
He found the latest nest disturbed this past Monday morning. In total, five different nests have been hit in the Naples area in recent weeks. Whoever is stealing the eggs is taking a big risk. Simply disturbing a turtle nest is considered a third-degree felony. And fines of up to $100 per egg are possible if they are stolen.
Unfortunately, the Naples Daily News reports this isn't a new phenomenon. There is a black market for sea turtle eggs in Florida. The eggs can fetch $20-$30 a dozen in some places.
It's especially troubling for Jacobsen since it's the first time anyone has messed with turtle nests in Naples. "In the 12 years I've been working with turtles, I can only remember maybe one time that someone has messed with the nests," he told the Naples Daily News. "Now it's been five times in a matter of weeks."
The turtle's low reproduction rate, coupled with low survival odds for hatchlings, does nothing to help the already-endangered turtle species in Florida. Four of the five species are considered endangered and their nests are often roped off with yellow tape warning of legal actions for those that disturb them.
The disturbance of turtle nests is a big deal. So much so, that Jacobsen is asking anyone who witnesses someone disturbing a nest to call 911 immediately. It's a big deal because they want to catch the culprits and prevent the turtle's nesting patterns from being disturbed.
"Once they lay eggs somewhere, turtles like to return to their beaches," Jacobsen told the Naples Daily News. "If you remove eggs from where they've been laid, you can negate future generations of turtles. It's not just this year, it's the turtles entire futures that are interrupted."
It's not just egg thieves that threaten sea turtles in Florida. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation reports on their website they also suffer threats from trash, oil spills and disease.
In some cases, artificial lighting near beaches can cause hatchling turtles to become disoriented and lose their way. Even simple beach furniture can cause nesting adults to get tangled and trapped on the beach.
Anyone with further information on anyone disturbing sea turtles can call FWC's Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC. Their website also offers a place to report violations.