Inside look of an artificial turtle egg

Scientists 3D print decoy sea turtle eggs to spy on poachers

Sea turtles are facing a massive poaching problem. why decoy turtle eggs? Already having to deal with the early consequences of global warming, most sea turtle species are hunted for their meat, their shells, and the eggs—especially the eggs –. These last are considered aphrodisiacs and delicacies in some regions. In fact, poachers destroy more than 90% of sea turtle nests on many Central American beaches because the eggs are in high demand. Fortunately, a wildlife conservation group on the South Coast is fighting illegal poaching of sea turtle eggs through a solution that integrates 3D printing and GSM-GPS tracking technologies. Keep reading this article to discover how the InvestEGGator helps lead conservation groups directly to the poachers, thanks to a rather clever idea, Ninjaflex filament, the LulzBot Mini 3D printer, and some pretty basic technology.

What is the InvestEGGator and how does it work?

InvestEGGator it’s basically a decoy sea turtle egg – about the size of a ping pong ball – that has a GPS inside to track down poachers. What is more, this device will monitor and send real-time information about the movements between poachers and intermediaries whenever the eggs are being carried from one place of hiding to another. The InvestEGGator uses mobile networks widely available in Central America and throughout the global tropics where sea turtles nest. Therefore, its creators claim this solution is both feasible and scalable.

Inside look at an InvestEGGator decoy egg
Image: Inside look at an InvestEGGator decoy egg. Caption: InvestEGGator is a low-cost dummy turtle egg with an internally embedded tracker. It replicates the appearance, weight, and feel of real turtle eggs. The GPS and SIM card inside the egg connects to a smartphone so that conservationists can track the movements through an app. Source: InvestEGGator official website.

Using NinjaFlex filament and the LulzBot Mini 3D printer to create the InvestEGGator

The surface of the InvestEGGator replicates the texture, feel, appearance, dimensions, and weight of a real sea turtle egg. As a matter of fact, real eggs have a flexible, leathery shell, slightly larger than a ping-pong ball and with a softer shell. Besides, weight is a crucial factor since lighter eggs risk falling out of the mix or sinking to the bottom. Therefore, to simulate a real sea turtle egg, conservation scientist Kim Williams-Guillen uses NinjaFlex filament, from the manufacturer NinjaTek. This TPU thermoplastic offers great flexibility and is very suitable for the texture that is intended to be achieved. 

She also used the LulzBot Mini 3D printer, a desktop solution that boasts high throughput for parts. As a result, scientists got an artificial egg that mimics the attributes of natural Olive Ridley eggs weighing 50 grams with a 40 mm diameter. The only difference indeed is the built-in GPS and SIM card inside. Furthermore, the prototypes turn out to be completely harmless to the real turtle eggs to mix with. In turn, it helps save not just one, but multiple species of sea turtles.

“We make the fake sea turtle egg by 3D printing it with a very flexible kind of plastic. We add some silicon on the inside. We seal that up. We sand it and we paint it.”

Kim Williams-Guillen, conservation scientist with Ventura-based nonprofit Paso Pacifico who developed these artificial sea turtle eggs.

Protecting sea turtle egg nests from poaching can reverse population declines

InvestEGGator decoy eggs may be the solution to ending illegal poaching, which currently has devastating effects on sea turtle populations. “You can see right there where the egg is travelling down that roadway there and into the parking lot,” says Paso Pacifico Executive Director Sarah Otterstrom. Law enforcement can in fact use the data to identify major transit routes and cripple the illegal egg trade.

“We found that the eggs work. They move. We’ve got tracking data on that. It’s helped get patterns in poacher behavior. And, they don’t do any harm to the nests if they don’t get poached,” she says.

Helen Pheasy, a PhD candidate from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom who’s studying biodiversity management. Helen has successfully tested The artificial eggs on beaches off Costa Rica.
Just-born baby sea turtle about to make its way to the sea in Central America.
Just-born baby sea turtle about to make its way to the sea in Central America. Source: Paso Pacífico.

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