Local Environmental Technology Subject of CNN’s Great Big Story

October 10, 2017
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Ventura-based Paso Pacifico invents decoy sea turtle eggs with GPS to track poachers

A Paso Pacifico ranger checks on real eggs in a sea turtle nest. Photo by Paso Pacifico

VENTURA — Baby sea turtles have plenty of natural predators to deal with on their way to adulthood. Add in the threat of poachers, who destroy more than 90 percent of sea turtle nests on many Central American beaches, and the odds of survival decrease even further. Luckily, Paso Pacifico, a Ventura-based nonprofit organization, has created an innovative solution to help fight illegal poaching, and word is starting to spread.

Paso Pacífico’s latest wildlife conservation project, the InvestEGGator decoy turtle egg, was the recent subject of a feature from CNN’s Great Big Story, a global media company devoted to sharing inspiring stories of the untold, the overlooked and the flat-out amazing. The team at Great Big Story has visited more than 80 countries to track down incredible stories and create micro-documentaries and short films about their discoveries. Paso Pacifico’s InvestEGGator eggs are now in the spotlight.

The InvestEGGator decoy eggs are created by Paso Pacifico biologist Kim Williams-Guillén and Hollywood prop stylist Lauren Wilde. These artificial turtle eggs have built-in GPS devices and are designed to mirror the look, shape, weight and feel of actual turtle eggs. Williams-Guillén starts the process by creating the shell for the location-tracking eggs. She then sends them off to Wilde, who uses her special-effects expertise to apply the final touches. A combination of paint, glue and sand helps make the decoy eggs virtually identical to the real thing.

Once placed in the nest, the InvestEGGator decoy egg is indistinguishable from the real turtle eggs.
Photo by Phil Torres

Once the InvestEGGators are successfully placed in turtle nests in Central America, unknowing poachers can easily scoop up the decoy eggs among the real ones. Law enforcement can then use the data points from the decoy eggs to identify major transit routes and cripple the illegal egg trade.

Paso Pacifico’s InvestEGGator eggs have been making news and building momentum for several months now, thanks in part to being named one of the Prize Winners of USAID’sWildlife Crime Tech Challenge in early 2016. Paso Pacifico was a Challenge Prize winner in the “Detect Transit Routes” category and received $10,000 and technical assistance to further their solution.

Since receiving that award, Paso Pacifico has been working to perfect the technology and test it in real-life poaching situations in Central America. What started as an idea as part of the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge is now a functional and scalable prototype that is the result of testing and refining various artificial egg designs, materials, and production processes, as well as internal transmitter and battery technology. Based on this progress, Paso Pacifico was just awarded a Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge Acceleration Prize of $100,000. This prize was announced last Thursday in front of a crowd of almost 700 people at Global Innovation Week in Washington D.C. Paso Pacifico will use the prize money to further develop the technology and get it into the hands of law enforcement and conservation groups working to protect sea turtles from the illegal wildlife trade.

Spreading the InvestEGGator decoy eggs across Central American beaches could be critical in determining the future of many sea turtle species. Six of the seven existing species of sea turtles are threatened with extinction, and poaching is one of the biggest threats. Adult sea turtles are killed for their meat and shells, and their eggs, considered a delicacy in many regions, are often taken from nests and sold into the illegal wildlife trade. Sea turtle products now comprise the second most frequently trafficked wildlife product smuggled from Latin America to the United States, and eggs make up a quarter of those illegal imports.

“People are often surprised to learn that our Paso Pacifico team is making a significant impact on wildlife habitats internationally, from right here in downtown Ventura,” said Paso Pacifico Executive Director Sarah Otterstrom. “Together with our dedicated team in Nicaragua, we are working to protect and restore the Pacific Slope ecosystems of Mesoamerica, and the InvestEGGator decoy egg is an exciting and innovative solution that we believe can make a real difference.”

To learn more about Paso Pacifico and the InvestEGGator decoy sea turtle eggs, or to make a donation towards the fight to save sea turtles, visit pasopacifico.org. Click here to see their featured video on Great Big Story.

About Paso Pacifico: Paso Pacifico’s mission is to restore and protect the Pacific Slope ecosystems of Mesoamerica. These habitats include the endangered dry tropical forest, mangrove wetlands, and eastern Pacific coral reefs. By strengthening the Paso del Istmo and other corridors across a region-wide network, we will reconnect people and wildlife across western Mesoamerica. Our innovative approach protects biodiversity where people already live. By working with local communities, landowners, and partner organizations, we restore and protect the habitats that form building blocks for wildlife corridors.

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