Finding a Partner

Paso Pacífico needed a partner. It teamed up with wildlife biologist Helen Pheasey. Pheasey was doing fieldwork in Costa Rica and was willing to plant some decoy eggs. 

Her mission was threefold. First, she needed to see if the technology in the eggs would work in the field. Second, she needed to see if the design of the fake eggs could trick poachers. And third, she needed to make certain that the presence of the fake eggs did not disturb the health of the real eggs.

So far, the news has been good. The healthy eggs are not bothered by the fake eggs. The poachers have been fooled. And the tracking works. Pheasey was able to track some of the decoys to local destinations and another to the middle of a river, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from the nest. She thinks a poacher may have discovered the tracker and abandoned it in the river.

The system isn’t perfect. Limited cellular networks could limit their ability to track the eggs in some places. Poachers will eventually find the trackers. But, it is a good start.

A Paso Pacifico turtle ranger collects turtle eggs for safekeeping nearby.

Kim Williams-Guillen explains to volunteers how the fake sea turtle eggs work. 

What Comes Next

Deploying more fake eggs is the next step. The more data they have, the easier it will be to generate a map to show howand wherethe eggs are traded. The fake eggs are a way to shift the focus away from the poachers themselves to where the poachers are going. That will help the team better understand the demand for turtle eggs.

Experts believe most of the stolen eggs eventually make their way out of Nicaragua, possibly to El Salvador or Guatemala. However, there is also a concern that sea turtle eggs are being shipped overseas. If this is true, it could mean new markets for poached eggs – making the trade that much more difficult to combat.

The information gathered by the team could help police capture poachers. In places where governments don’t prioritize protecting the eggs, the data could be used in other ways.

For example, the data could fuel educational campaigns about the turtles. It could also be used for conservation projects, such as beach patrols to monitor the nests.

Williams-Guillén doesn’t think her fake eggs will solve the problem of turtle egg poaching. But she does think it could be a powerful tool. Combined with other conservation efforts, it could help ensure that sea turtles are safe for the future.

Protecting sea turtles also protects the environment. Healthy oceans need sea turtles.