Looking for
a Solution

Kim Williams-Guillén had been watching a couple of television shows. In both shows, tiny GPS trackers were hidden in everyday items to track down “bad guys.” Hmmmm, she thought, that’s not a bad idea….

Williams-Guillén is an ecologist and the director of conservation science for Paso Pacífico. It’s a California-based group that protects biodiversity in Central America. She knew sea turtle eggs were poached, but there was so much she didn’t know. Where did the poachers go? Who was buying the eggs? She needed a way to track the poachers. ​​​​​​​What if she created a fake turtle egg with a tracking device in it and put it in a fresh sea turtle nest? If it looked real enough, poachers might not notice.

Kim Williams-Guillén holds fake turtle eggs with trackers inside.

a time-lapse video of egg printing

A New Idea

Paso Pacífico submitted this idea, now known as the InvestEGGator, to the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge. It was selected in 2016 as one of 16 winners out of 300 applicants. The prize money was used to help develop the first prototype for the fake eggs.

A real sea turtle egg is about the size of a Ping-Pong ball, and it has a small dent in it. It’s not covered in a hard shell, like a bird’s egg. Instead, it’s slightly squishy with a thin, but not brittle, shell. To get a somewhat flexiblealmost rubberyfeel, Williams-Guillén needed to find the right sort of plastic.

She tested several materials before finding the right one. She used a 3-D printer to produce the fake egg. It took about 90 minutes to print. After some trial and error, she was able to create just the right size and feel for the phony egg. But it still didn’t look quite right. In a real egg, the yellow of the yolk almost shines through the thin, white shell. It’s hard to replicate.

Williams-Guillén knew she needed expert guidance. So, she contacted Lauren Wilde, a special effects and makeup artist in Los Angeles, California. Wilde took the printed eggs and sanded them to make them smooth. Then she applied different coats of paint and glue to get the right color.

From the outside, the fake eggs look almost identical to real ones. You’d have a hard time telling the difference if someone handed you a basket with both.

Lauren Wilde inspects one of the fake sea turtle eggs.

Hollywood makeup artist Lauren Wilde uses paint and glue on the false sea turtle eggs to make them look more realistic.

The fake eggs are hard to spot. One was placed on top of this nest.

But on the inside, the fake egg is packed with an antenna, a battery, and electronics similar to what you’d find in a cell phone. These electronics connect to the internet. They reveal the date and time that the egg is at a particular location.

So, not only can the team track the egg, they can also figure out how fast the egg is moving. That may help them determine the mode of transportation that is being used to move the egg. Is the egg being carried on foot? Driven in a vehicle?

Each fake egg costs about $40 to make. Williams-Guillén needed to make several and test them in the field. Luckily, Paso Pacífico was awarded another prize from the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge to further develop the project.

Each fake egg weighs as much as a real egg, but it is stuffed with a tracking device.