Did you know? Every year in the United States, tens of thousands of sea turtle eggs are stolen from nests. This is a violation of the federal Environmental Protection Act which seeks to protect the sea turtles from going extinct. Poachers will steal the sea turtle eggs to sell on the black market, where they are worth between $5 and $20 an egg.
To prevent the egg poaching from continuing, the conservation group Paso Pacífico is planting 3D printed decoy eggs in sea turtle nests in North and Central America. Because the eggs have a high risk of being poached, they are being used to help crack down on poachers.
The Washington Post reports that the 3D-printed ping pong ball-size eggs are identical to sea turtle eggs. However, they were laid by a printer and inside their silicone shells are GPS tracking devices. The conservationists hope to catch poachers by planting the fake eggs then confronting them.
“We want to sneak them into nests that are most vulnerable to poaching,” said Kim Williams-Guillén, the director of conservation science at Paso Pacífico. “It would be really easy for them to grab one of those eggs and not even notice it.”
The organization’s phony turtle egg will be deployed this fall in Central America during arribada, a mass nesting event. There, activists and law enforcement workers will be nearby to catch turtle egg thieves.
Only a handful of poachers are ever caught. They include a Florida man who was caught collecting 107 eggs from a loggerhead turtle as she laid them. As punishment, he faced a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. In May of 2016, a couple was sentenced to six months in prison for smuggling 911 olive ridley sea turtle eggs from Mexico. These are but a few incidences highlighting the extent some people will go to collect the eggs.
According to Williams-Guillén, Paso Pacífico’s fake turtle egg won a grant from the USAID-sponsored Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge. The organization also works with local communities and hires and trains “turtle rangers” to monitor the beaches.
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Image Credit: Dave Bothman/Paso Pacífico