Conservation biologists are using 3D printing and GPS technology to create decoy sea turtle eggs, which are helping them to track poachers.
GPS Trackers and 3D Printers
Scientist Helen Pheasey is tracking the decoy eggs through the black market, the CBC reported.
Pheasey prints the decoy eggs on a 3D printer and installs tiny GPS tracking devices in them. Then she plants the decoys into turtle clutches that are at risk of poaching.
Sea turtles face a number of predators, but humans are arguably the most destructive. Humans kill turtles for their meat, fat, oil, eggs, skin and shells. Scientists estimate that the green sea turtle population in the Caribbean has dropped by 99% since Christopher Columbus arrived there.
Roldán Valverde, scientific director at Florida’s Sea Turtle Conservancy and a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, told the CBC that nascent conservation efforts are working.
“In general, sea turtle populations across the globe have been rebounding,” he said. “They are not up to historical levels, but they are rebounding. And the one thing in common to all conservation projects is the protection of the eggs and the beaches.”
A Two-Pronged Conservation Strategy
Those conservation efforts consist of two parts: cutting off the black market and allowing limited legal egg harvesting.
It’s helpful to allow some egg harvesting because, without it, the nest density grows so great that many more eggs are destroyed. The newly-arrived female turtles accidentally dig up the nests that were already there, breaking the existing eggs and contaminating their new eggs with microbes.
It remains a mystery how the turtles know when to nest. They nest all at once, in what’s known as an arribada. Tens of thousands of sea turtles go ashore on the same beach where they were born to lay eggs.
“No one knows [how they decide to nest],” Valverde said. “My fear, personally, is that I will leave this world without knowing. Yes, that sometimes keeps me up at night.”
Fortunately, with the publication of Pheasey’s research, there will be one less thing keeping Valverde up at night: the secrets of sea turtle poachers.