Turtle populations in Central America are dwindling as a result of illegal poaching. Turtle eggs are an expensive delicacy in restaurants and tracking those who raid nests on remote beaches is a near-impossible task, but conservation organization Paso Pacifico believes the answer lies in IoT technology.
It’s estimated that more than ninety percent of turtle nests on Central American beaches are devastated by illegal poaching. Authorities know little about the trade routes used by black market operators and are struggling to police the problem.
That’s where the InvestEGGator program comes in. Set up by conservation organization Paso Pacifico, this scheme uses fake eggs in order to track poachers. Every InvestEGGator egg is, in fact, a 3D-printed GPS-GSM tracking device.
“We have a prototype that is functioning using a GPS/GSM device and is hooked up to a cellular phone network and then placed into an artificial sea turtle egg,” explained Paso Pacifico executive director Sarah Otterstrom. “While those eggs are moving across transit routes, the artificial eggs are transmitting in real time their actual location.”
Each $100 device can blend in with genuine eggs and transmit real-time maps of smuggling routes. And despite the technology hidden inside, they are unlikely to be discovered, because the majority of nest raids occur under cover of darkness. Poachers also work fast to avoid detection, so one artificial egg in a nest of twenty or so has a good chance of remaining intact for the duration of the trade route.
Dismantling wildlife crime with the IoT
Paso Pacifico technology has already won awards and funding as part of USAID‘s Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge. Testing has taken place on beaches in Nicaragua and Paso Pacifico has said in a statement that the information provided will help it work with authorities, “to dismantle egg trafficking, both domestically and internationally.”
Paso Pacifico’s InvestEGGator is not the first project to utilize the IoT to fight wildlife crime, but it is unusual in that it relies on artificial eggs to track poachers, rather than more conspicuous sensors or devices attached to prey.
From sensors embedded into endangered rhinos’ horns to connected collars tracking the movements of zebra herds, conservation bodies are using LoRaWAN networks and even drones to keep animals safe from poachers.