Faking Out Poachers with 3D-Printed Sea Turtle Eggs
John R. Platt - TakePart
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April 2, 2016

3D-printed sea turtle eggs with wireless transmitters. (Paso Pacifico)

They come by night and they steal the future.

Every year, poachers in Nicaragua and other countries wait for cover of darkness and then make their way onto the beaches where endangered sea turtles have just laid their eggs. Working quickly, they dig up the precious eggs - hundreds at a time - and disappear. Some of the eggs turn up a few days later, priced as low as 20 cents apiece in local bars. Others travel thousands of miles to the United States or China, where they can sell for upwards of $150 each.

Exactly how the stolen eggs get from a beach in Nicaragua to a restaurant in Hong Kong remains unknown, frustrating efforts to combat the black market trade. A new project hopes to solve that.

The nonprofit Paso Pacifico is in the process of developing an innovative fake egg to help conservationists better understand - and maybe stop - the illegal trade. The eggs will contain a GSM transmitter hidden inside a 3-D-printed shell made to look exactly like what poachers would find within a fresh sea turtle nest. The fakes, each the size of a ping-pong ball, will then be tracked over cellular networks along their smuggling routes to their final destinations.

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