By Michael Hall
A tour of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island given a man completing community service may not have had the effect a federal judge had in mind when sentencing him in 2013 for stealing sea turtle eggs.
Lewis Jackson Sr., 61, was in the McIntosh County Detention Center Thursday after being arrested Wednesday by rangers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for allegedly trying to take 67 loggerhead sea turtle eggs off of Sapelo Island.
Rangers using K-9 units during a periodic wildlife check around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday as people exited the ferry from the island say they discovered Jackson with a bag full of eggs taken from nests laid on the beaches by the federally protected endangered species.
The eggs have a monetary value.
“Right now there is a black market for them as an aphrodisiac,” said DNR Sgt. Mark Carson.
In 2013, officers said the eggs were fetching a price around $15 apiece. That is when Jackson’s first brush with state and federal authorities for violating the Lacey Act by stealing turtle eggs landed him in federal prison.
The federal Lacey Act makes it unlawful for anyone to acquire, receive or transport loggerhead eggs, which is why the DNR passed its investigation onto the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 2013, Jackson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Brunswick to taking 156 loggerhead eggs from Sapelo Island in 2012. He was sentenced by Chief U.S. Distric Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to six months in a federal prison with two years of probation after his release.
Wood also sentenced Jackson to 156 hours of community service, one for each egg he took, working on Jekyll Island, a popular sea turtle nesting destination.
Since sea turtle nesting season started in May, more than 100 nests have been discovered on Jekyll.
To drive home the impacts his actions had on the environment, Jackson worked with code compliance officer Phil Lyons, who ensures beachgoers are respectful to the island’s environmental assets like sand dunes and turtle nests.
Wood also ordered Jackson to take a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which rehabilitates injured sea turtles and educates the public about the reptiles.
Elsie Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Jackson’s previous conviction for taking loggerhead eggs will affect any penalty he receives if he is charged by federal authorities.
The case is still under investigation, she added, and no charges had been filed as of late Thursday. It was also unclear if Jackson was still on federal probation Wednesday from his 2013 sentence when he was arrested.