Kim Williams-Guillén is an ecologist. She’s also the director of conservation science for Paso Pacífico. The group 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? What if she 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 New Idea
Paso Pacífico submitted this idea 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. It has a small dent in it. It’s not covered in a hard shell. Instead, it’s slightly squishy. To get an almost rubbery feel, 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. But it still didn’t look quite right. In a real egg, the yellow yolk almost shines through the thin, white shell.
Williams-Guillén knew she needed help. So, she contacted Lauren Wilde, a special effects and makeup artist in Los Angeles. Wilde took the printed eggs and sanded them to make them smooth. Then she applied coats of paint and glue to get the right color.
From the outside, the fake eggs look almost identical to real ones. But on the inside, the fake egg is packed with the kind of electronics you might find in a cell phone. They connect to the internet. They reveal the date and time that the egg is at a certain location.
Lauren Wilde inspects one of the fake sea turtle eggs.
Hollywood makeup artist Lauren Wilde uses paint and glue on the fake eggs to make them look real.
The fake eggs are hard to spot.
One was placed on top of this nest.
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 kind of transportation used to move the egg.
Each fake egg costs about $40 to make. And Williams-Guillén needed several to test in the field. Luckily, Paso Pacífico was awarded another prize to further develop the project.
Each fake egg weighs as much as a real egg. However, it is stuffed with a tracking device.