Scientists Inspired by Crime Shows Use Fake Sea Turtle Eggs to Spy on Poachers

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The next time you feel guilty about watching too much TV, think about Kim Williams-Guillen.

When the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced its Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge as a way to encourage the use of technological advances to fight wildlife poaching in 2014, she immediately thought of two of her favorite shows: The Wire and Breaking Bad.

Williams-Guillen, a conservation scientist with the biodiversity group Paso Pacífico, used a tactic from HBO's The Wire and a plotline from Breaking Bad to use egg decoys to catch sea turtle poachers.

The decoys, cleverly named InvestEggator, were developed specifically to address the illegal trade of endangered sea turtles in Central America, where the eggs are smuggled from beaches and sold to restaurants and bars as a delicacy.

"In Breaking Bad, the DEA places a GPS tracking device on a tank of chemicals to see who receives the chemicals," she explained in a release from Cell Press. "In one episode of The Wire, two police officers plant an audio device in a tennis ball to surreptitiously record a suspected drug dealer. Turtle eggs basically look like ping pong balls, and we wanted to know where they were going—put those two ideas together and you have the InvestEGGator."

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By placing their cleverly disguised electronic eggs in the nests of green turtles and olive ridley sea turtles, the researchers successfully tracked how poachers are selling the eggs as food around Costa Rica.

The researchers added that they hope to see more sea turtle projects use the decoys on their nesting beaches, to off more information on the turtle egg trade in different countries.

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