Double trap for poachers. Fake turtle eggs with GPS trackers

Published on July 19, 2016

Double trap for poachers. Fake turtle eggs with GPS trackers


    An employee of the US National Park Service helps the Atlantic Ridley, a rare species in the Red Book and threatened with extinction, crawling to the sea for turtles. Photo: Zereshk

    It’s hard to imagine more defenseless creatures than newborn turtles. They hatch in a large group - and crawl en masse to the sea, as quickly as they can. At the age of just a few minutes, they represent an excellent target for predators - birds, crabs, lizards. Each turtle has a chance of about 0.05, that is, about five out of a hundred are crawling alive. Kids crawl completely defenseless, just like the marines during the landing in Normandy under the heavy fire of the Nazis.


    Baby turtles a few minutes after birth. Photo: Olivier Blaise

    But not everyone has such a ghostly chance of success, because every year thousands of rare turtles' eggs in the Red Book are poached by poachers even before the turtles hatched.

    Eggs of rare animals are considered a delicacy: some people are willing to pay big money to eat them.

    California Department of Conservationists Paso Pacificoannounced a large-scale operation against poachers. This fall, during the mass nesting of turtles in Central America, they will make a large number of artificial turtle eggs, which in appearance and weight will exactly match the real eggs, similar to balls for table tennis.

    Smooth to the touch and perfectly round, these eggs are perfectly similar to the millions of real eggs that sea turtles lay and bury every year on the beaches along the coast of North and Central America.

    But in fact, a GPS / GSM tracker is disguised under a fake egg artificial silicone shell. With the help of such devices, environmentalists hope to solve the problem of poaching, which thrives in Central America, and more recently in the US, writes The Washington Post . GPS coordinates of beacons will be transmitted by law enforcement agencies. Technology partners environmentalists intend to provide the police with interactive terrain maps for tracking the GPS coordinates of eggs.

    The artificial egg project with a GPS tracker received a grant at the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge technology project competition. In the project description, it is said that Goodnight & Co will help produce artificial eggshells for eggs with the technical expertise of Dr. David Botman of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Artificial eggs are made in silicone molds printed on a 3D printer. The shell is made of hard silicone.


    Fake eggs made by Paso Pacifico activists. On the left is an egg with a GPS tracker, it weighs just under 55 grams, the same as a real egg (on the right). Photo: Dave Bothman / Paso Pacífico

    As the turtles lay eggs in large quantities, a single poacher is able to quickly clean the whole beach. During the nesting season, Paso Pacifico Rangers take the appropriate beaches along the coast under protection. According to their estimates, without patrols, up to 90% of the turtle population would be destroyed every season in certain regions of Central America.

    Patrolling of beaches begins after Arribad (arrival) - a unique natural phenomenon, when hundreds of thousands of sea turtles at dusk come ashore and dig nests to lay eggs. Arribadas occur in just a few days a year. This year, a record number of turtles appeared on arrival in South Carolina and Florida .


    Arriving in Costa Rica. Photo: Olivier Blaise

    Although serious criminal groups have not yet been seen in this business, in 2013 one of the environmentalists was killed in Costa Rica , probably while trying to prevent poachers. So activists really risk their lives.


    Conservationist Mora Sandoval (Mora Sandoval), killed by poachers on May 31, 2013

    Poachers in Nicaragua deliver goods at prices ranging from $ 0.50 to $ 2 for a dozen. In Honduras, such eggs are sold on the streets - according to popular belief, they increase the male power. Eggs of rare turtles are sold in Latin American restaurants for as low as $ 5 to $ 20 apiece - such restaurants operate in the countries of South America and abroad, including in the USA. Eggs are served raw, like oysters, sometimes in beer, or boiled with salt. In the bars they eat beer like pistachios.


    Tourists and volunteers watch a baby turtle reach the sea on South Litchfield Beach in South Carolina, 2012. Photo: Randhall Hill / Reuters

    Recently, thanks to the considerable efforts of the authorities and environmental guards, the number of sea turtles off the coast of North America has increased. Almost all rare species are studied and classified, and state and federal authorities have tightened the punishment for poaching animal species that are listed in the Red Book. Artificial eggs with GPS beacons will help even more effectively deal with poachers.


    More than 107 eggs were taken from a man on the beach of Jupiter Island in Florida two weeks ago while the turtle laid them in the sand. 15 out of 107 eggs were taken as material evidence, and the rest were buried back. Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision

    Someone may have a fair question: why do activists report the technical details of the operation prior to its implementation ? After all, it would be logical to keep them secret. In fact, this is done on purpose, because in this way the effectiveness of the operation increases. If you manage to scare off poachers, then it is even better than to calculate and catch the criminals after the fact. After all, the main task of law enforcement agencies in all countries is to prevent a crime, and not to punish it.

    Actually, the ideal plan to combat poachers would consist of two points:

    1. Announce the release of artificial eggs with GPS trackers.
    2. Do nothing more.

    That is, it turns out not just a trap, but a double trap for poachers.

    If one of these major poachers succeeds in scaring off such actions, it will be a great success, says Kim Williams-Guillén, scientific director of Paso Pacifico.