A pioneering project in Central America plans to use 3D-printed dummy sea turtle eggs equipped with GPS trackers to find out where poachers are taking and selling stolen eggs. Turtle Tracks, co-ordinated by PhD candidate Helen Pheasey at the University of Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, aims to help stop the international trade in sea turtle eggs as a source of protein and for supposed aphrodisiac properties. Just 1 in 1000 hatchling turtles makes it to adulthood, and poaching is a major reason why.
Pheasey explains on Turtle Tracks' crowdfunding page:
"For the last few years I have been working in Central America with sea turtles. I have witnessed first-hand the miracle of them coming ashore, using their back flippers to dig a nest and then lay their eggs. But I have also seen for myself the number of nests lost to poachers as well as the carcasses of turtles that they leave behind."
She goes on to explain why the research is important to the future of sea turtles, who've been around for 100 million years but are now in danger of extinction thanks to grabby-handed humans:
"Turtles need to come onto land to nest and use beaches across the tropics to lay their eggs. Six species of turtle nest on Central American beaches and it is during nesting that turtles are most vulnerable to poaching. There is high demand for turtle meat, shell and eggs, but this demand is driving the extinction of turtles."
The decoy eggs - created by conservation NGO Paso Pacifico - will be placed at secret turtle nests on Central American beaches, then tracked to see where the stolen eggs end up. The idea isn't to punish poachers but to test the technology as a means of future law enforcement, and hopefully also to deter would-be poachers from taking more eggs.
The 3D printed eggs are designed to look and feel identical to real green turtle eggs, and contain a GPS tracker, SIM card and power pack. They cost around £35 each, and the project is taking donations until the 17th of February. Donors get to name the egg, as well as receiving a report on its movements. Plus the major karma of helping adorable tiny sea turtle hatchlings, obviously. Just look at those little flippers.
Images: Turtle Tracks