Ventura-based Paso Pacifico invents decoy sea turtle eggs with GPS to track criminals

Staff Report

Baby sea turtles have plenty of natural predators to deal with on their way to adulthood. Add in the threat of poachers, who destroy more than 90 percent of sea turtle nests on many Central American beaches, and the odds of survival decrease even further.

Paso Pacifico, a Ventura-based nonprofit organization, has created an innovative solution to help fight illegal poaching.

A Paso Pacifico ranger checks on real eggs in a sea turtle nest.
Photo contributed

The group’s latest wildlife conservation project, the InvestEGGator decoy turtle egg, was recently featured on CNN’s “Great Big Story,” a program devoted to sharing inspiring stories of the untold, the overlooked and the flat-out amazing.

The team at Great Big Story has visited more than 80 countries to track down incredible stories and create micro-documentaries and short films about their discoveries.

The InvestEGGator decoy eggs are created by Paso Pacifico biologist Kim Williams-Guillén and Hollywood prop stylist Lauren Wilde. These artificial turtle eggs have built-in GPS devices and are designed to mirror the look, shape, weight and feel of actual turtle eggs.

Williams-Guillén starts the process by creating the shell for the location-tracking eggs. She then sends them off to Wilde, who uses her special-effects expertise to apply the final touches. A combination of paint, glue and sand helps make the decoy eggs virtually identical to the real thing.

Once the InvestEGGators are placed in turtle nests in Central America, unknowing poachers can easily scoop up the decoy eggs among the real ones. Law enforcement can then use the data points from the decoy eggs to identify major transit routes and cripple the illegal egg trade.

The InvestEGGator eggs also won the Challenge Prize in early 2016 in USAID’s Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, receiving $10,000 and technical assistance.

Based on progress with that help, Paso Pacifico was just awarded a Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge Acceleration Prize of $100,000.

The nonprofit will use the prize money to further develop the technology and get it into the hands of law enforcement and conservation groups working to protect sea turtles from the illegal wildlife trade.

Six of the seven existing species of sea turtles are threatened with extinction, and poaching is one of the biggest threats. Adult sea turtles are killed for their meat and shells, and their eggs, considered a delicacy in many regions, are often taken from nests and sold into the illegal wildlife trade.

Sea turtle products now comprise the second most frequently trafficked wildlife product smuggled from Latin America to the United States, and eggs make up a quarter of those illegal imports.

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