Decoy Sea Turtle Eggs Help Track Down Poachers

©. Paso Pacifico

In Central America, sea turtle nests are in constant peril. It's estimated that 90 percent of nests are destroyed by poachers that go on to sell the eggs into the illegal wildlife trade. The eggs are considered a delicacy in some countries where they're served in restaurants and bars.

Researchers at Paso Pacifico, a conservation group based in Nicaragua, have developed a decoy sea turtle egg that can be placed in sea turtle nests, perfectly blending in with the real thing. The fake egg, called the InvestEGGator, is a GPS-GSM tracking device that provides real time maps of its locations, providing authorities with key smuggling routes.

The artificial eggs are made using a 3-D printer with a material that mimics the look and feel of real sea turtle eggs, which are soft to the touch, not brittle like birds' eggs. The researchers worked with Hollywood special effects experts to get the details just right. The eggs are sealed with a waterproof silicon to protect the tracking device inside.

The GPS-GSM device is connected to a cellular network so that the egg can transmit its location as it travels and crosses boarders. This means that the egg's ability to ping its location is limited by the availability of cellular networks, but those are expanding so the researchers don't see that as a major drawback.

The team has tested the egg on one beach in Nicaragua so far and plans to start testing in coastal sites throughout Central America soon.

The technology was recently awarded the USAID Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge Acceleration Prize, winning the team $100,000 towards deploying their project. You can watch a video about the technology below.