Breaking Bad Inspires Breakthrough In Tracking Turtle Poachers
Expert hunters of turtle poachers have turned to tactics inspired by the hit show Breaking Bad to put an end to the illegal trade of turtle eggs.
InvestEggators – yes, really – are fake, GPS-enabled turtle eggs designed to track the movements of poachers who steal them from endangered sea turtles.
Paso Pacifico is the conservation organisation behind the scheme to end the illegal trade of endangered sea turtle products, and the brainchild of its latest initiative is scientist Kim Williams-Guillen – with a little help from Walter White.
Williams-Guillen said in a statement:
In Breaking Bad, the DEA places a GPS tracking device on a tank of chemicals to see who receives the chemicals. Turtle eggs basically look like ping pong balls, and we wanted to know where they were going, put those two ideas together and you have the InvestEggator.
One such use of the InvestEggators will be to track which restaurants the eggs will be travelling to. This could provide scientists at Paso Pacifico a better understanding of the scale of the poacher’s operations.
Sea turtle eggs are considered a delicacy in Central America, with restaurants and bars across the region paying handsome sums to put the eggs on their menus.
A total of 101 3D-printed eggs were dispersed across four beaches in Costa Rica, and a quarter of the eggs were taken by poachers before the tracking began.
The eggs travelled to various places across the country; some went just 2km down the road to a local bar while others spent days in transit, eventually landing at a residential property 137km away from the beach.
Paso Pacifico scientists also received reports from people in Cariari, a town 43km from one of the beaches. The decoy egg had been taken offline and dissected, but clues still came pouring in.
The town sent photos of the egg and, along with anecdotal evidence, the scientists were able to understand where the egg was purchased and how many eggs had been exchanged.
Research leader Dr Helen Pheasey suspected the eggs don’t often leave the local area, and early evidence from the InvestEggators seems to support her thinking.
Knowing that a high proportion of eggs remain in the local area helps us target our conservation efforts. We can now focus our efforts on raising awareness in the local communities and direct law enforcement to this local issue.
It also means we know where the consumers are, which assists us in focusing demand reduction campaigns.
Going forward, the research team would like to see the decoy eggs being used across the world to give them a better idea of how the cross-border illegal trade of the endangered eggs operates.
Paso Pacifico is also working to adapt the transmitter to track the shipment of shark fins and parrot eggs, too.
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