Kim Williams-Guillén became inspired to create decoy turtle eggs after watching a TV show called The Wire.
In one episode, two police officers plant an audio device in a tennis ball to record a suspected drug dealer. Williams-Guillén had her “aha” moment while watching this, and was inspired to create the InvestEggator—a tracking device disguised as a sea turtle egg that can be used to track the illegal trade of sea turtle eggs in Costa Rica.
The decoy eggs, which were designed together with conservation organization Paso Pacifico, are made using a 3D-printer and feature satellite tags that allow the decoys to be tracked as they move. The decoys were placed amongst 101 turtle nests on four beaches in Costa Rica, and so far, they are proving to be an effective tool for tracking illegal trade.
A quarter of the fake eggs were stolen, with some eggs successfully tracked as they moved from thief to trafficker to consumer. Early evidence suggests that the eggs do not travel far from the beaches where they are snatched. The Guardian reports that one of the fake eggs was taken close to a nearby residential property and another traveled 2km to a bar. One egg, however, wound up going 137km inland after two days in transit.
Another decoy egg led to a very useful piece of intelligence eleven days after it stopped responding in Cariari, a town 43km from the beach. At that time, the researchers received photos from Cariari of the dissected egg. They also received evidence about where the egg was purchased and how many had been exchanged – useful intelligence for the local authorities seeking to protect the eggs.
The decoy eggs are still far from perfect. Some failed to transmit every hour, possibly because they moved to areas where they could not obtain a signal. Others may have stopped working because moisture penetrated the eggs and damaged the transmitters. Another six fake eggs were recovered on the beach, suggesting they had been swiftly discovered and discarded by collectors.
Nonetheless, the InvestEggator has proven a powerful tool in the battle against illegal wildlife trafficking. In the future, Williams-Guillén hopes the technology could be adapted to monitor egg thefts from crocodile and parrot nests, as well as track shipments of shark fins.