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Loggerhead sea turtles nest on Sapelo Island. Photo: T. Moore/NOAA

A Georgia man has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for stealing loggerhead sea turtle eggs on the state's Sapelo Island.

It was the second time Lewis Jackson, 61, was convicted of poaching viable turtle eggs from Sapelo Island in violation of the Lacey Act, which forbids the stealing and transporting of endangered species, including sea turtle eggs.

Jackson, of Brunswick, was sentenced to six months after he was charged with stealing 150 loggerhead turtle eggs in 2012.

On July 7 this year, he was arrested trying to leave the island with dozens of carefully wrapped eggs. (Sea turtle eggs demand as much a $25 per egg on the black market.)

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Loggerhead sea turtle eggs fetch as much as $25 per egg on the black market. Photo: Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Division

Late last week Chief United States District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood issued the harsher sentence.

In a press release posted Wednesday on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Facebook page, U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver is quoted as saying, "After a prison sentence [more than] three times longer than his first, the defendant should finally get the message that when you seek to profit by unlawfully exploiting our endangered species and national treasures, your next stop will be federal prison."

Loggerhead turtles are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and threatened in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act.

They’re long-lived but slow to mature, and are vulnerable to fishing practices and poaching. Their eggs and hatchlings are highly susceptible to predation, adding to the animals' risk of extinction.

On Sapelo Island, where hundreds of loggerhead turtles return each season to deposit eggs in the soft sand, nests are guarded fairly closely by members of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Sea Turtle Program.

Jackson was arrested a day after a wildlife technician with the agency discovered that 84 eggs were missing from a nest. It was subsequently determined that Jackson had been one of the visitors to the island that day.

Sapelo Island, a barrier island located in McIntosh County, is accessible only by airplane or boat. Approximately 97 percent of the island is owned by the state and managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

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