TURTLE TRAFFICKERS busted in Florida; Hundreds returned to the wild

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced on Friday that it had charged two men with poaching thousands of Florida turtles and selling them, with their final destination to be largely international markets.

Michael Boesenberg, 39, and Michael Clemons, 23, have each been charged with multiple counts related to the enterprise, the FWC said.

The FWC said it launched an undercover investigation after receiving a tip about the operation in February 2018 and found that it was so large that at times it depleted the turtle population in some areas, forcing the poachers to move to other areas of the state to fulfill their orders.

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“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place here,” said Dr. Brooke Talley, the Reptile and Amphibian Conservation Coordinator for the FWC. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”

The FWC said Boesenberg and Clemons sold the turtles for up to $300 each, or occasionally marijuana products. The turtles then sold for up to $10,000 each in Asia. The poachers could hit about $60,000 in a month.

More than 4,000 turtles were poached and sold over a six-month period, the FWC said, including Florida box turtles, Eastern box turtles, striped mud turtles, Florida mud turtles, chicken turtles, Florida softshell turtles, Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtles, spotted turtles and diamondback terrapins.

A search warrant served on August 12 found hundreds of turtles as well as the skull and shell of a protected Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. The FWC estimated the black market value at $200,000.

About 600 turtles have been returned to the while, the FWC said. About two dozen were quarantined and released at a later date, and a handful were handed over to a wildlife licensee since they were not native to the area.

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[Featured image: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]