Mar 25, 2016 | By Tess

The world’s sea turtle population is dwindling. As the ancient creatures’ environments are infringed upon and their eggs are stolen by poachers looking to make a pretty penny, the future is not looking so bright for the aquatic and increasingly endangered species. In Nicaragua, for instance, hundreds of sea turtle eggs are dug up by poachers who then sell the precious eggs to international markets for more than $150 a piece, and discard of the extras in local bars for mere cents.

In an effort to combat and even deter poachers from further damaging the world’s sea turtle population, nonprofit organization Paso Pacifico has come up with a brilliant plan to develop 3D printed, GSM equipped, fake turtle eggs. The fake 3D printed eggs, once perfected, will be placed in real turtle egg nests before poachers get to them, in order to help conservationists and law officials track the movement of the stolen incubating turtles.

As mentioned the project was conceived of by the US and Nicaragua based non-profit Paso Pacifico, which has dedicated itself to restoring and conserving the natural ecosystems of Central America’s Pacific slope since 2005.

Excitingly, their 3D printed decoy turtle egg project was recently announced as one of the winners of The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, which seeks to find innovative solutions to conservation and poaching problems. The challenge, organized in association with U.S. Aid for International Development, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, and TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization, awarded Paso Pacifico’s project $10,000 along with technical support to continue developing their 3D printed prototypes and to put them into action.

So far, the 3D printed turtle eggs, each about the size of a ping-pong ball, don’t quite resemble the material of real turtle eggs. To fix this, Paso Pacifico has been working with a Californian art studio to perfect the color and texture of the next prototypes. The team of developers are also testing and determining which GSM transmitters are best suited for the important tracking job.

Eduardo Boné-Morón, managing director at Paso Pacifico explains, “The plan is to start testing [the transmitters] in the next nesting season, which will start in July. Our rangers will locate vulnerable active nests that are more likely to be poached, for example, nests that are closer to trails. We will plant as many eggs as possible in the beach to increase the possibility of poachers taking the artificial eggs.”

With the GSM equipped 3D printed eggs hiding amongst the real turtle eggs, the team of conservationists are hoping to find out important information about sea turtle egg trafficking routes and the locations of smuggling networks. Boné-Morón also explains that because turtle eggs are only good for about two weeks, the networks to have them shipped to places as far as China in such a quick time must be very well established. With their recent project, he is hoping to shed light on this process and to even eventually break it down.

While you may be thinking that writing about such a covert operation might give poachers a one-up on the conservation effort, Boné-Morón explains that this is not the case and that spreading the word about the location tracking 3D printed decoys will hopefully deter poachers from even stealing the eggs in the first place. He says, “Eventually the poachers will learn there is something wrong with the beaches. That is totally fine with us. The reason they’re poaching right now is because it’s so easy. If they see that we’re watching them, we may be able to discourage them.”

By using 3D printing technologies to create the sea turtle eggs, the organization is also hoping to eventually provide their innovative designs and products to governments and nonprofit organizations around the world for an affordable cost, encouraging said agencies to prioritize the conservation of the endangered sea turtle.

The 3D printed sea turtle project is being led by Dr. Kim Williams-Guillen, and will receive technological support from a variety of individuals and companies including Wayra-Mexico, NFCGroup, Goodnight & Co, Turtle Island Restoration Network, etc.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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