SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Eight people have been arrested in Puerto Rico on federal charges of illegally trading endangered sea turtles for human consumption.

The U.S. Justice Department said Friday that the suspects were arrested in the southern coastal cities of Patillas and Arroyo.

The arrests come after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched an undercover operation in 2011 to investigate the illegal trade of sea turtles. Authorities found that people were selling the meat of 15 endangered hawksbill sea turtles and seven endangered green sea turtles.

The most important U.S. nesting sites for the hawksbill turtle are in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Involved in the probe was the newly created Puerto Rico Environmental Crimes Task Force, which aims to protect the island's natural resources and wildlife.