Drones May Give Embattled Sea Turtles a Fighting Chance!

Drones May Give Embattled Sea Turtles a Fighting Chance!

Mar 9, 2016, 9:44:09 PM Tech and Science

Egg Robbing “Hueveros” in Mexico are Frequently Foiled by New Surveillance Technology

Of the 7 sea turtle species on the planet, 5 are on the endangered species list and 3 of those 5 are “critically endangered”.  That means 3 out of the 5 species have greater than a 50% chance of becoming extinct. I tried to learn how many “critically endangered” species of any kind have ever been pulled back from the brink of extinction and made it off of the list. The data is a bit sketchy but I did find a reference in the “Endangered Species Act” and the numbers don’t bode well for our flippered friends. Only 1.3% of species on the endangered list ever get “de-listed”. In other words, 98.7 % will most likely disappear from the face of the earth forever unless some small populations are held in captivity.

When it comes to sea turtles we‘re talking about animals with a 110 million year history on the planet. That’s something that needs to be respected and preserved. The assault on sea turtles, their nests and their eggs comes from several quarters.  Some are natural like foxes, birds, lizards and even feral pigs that eat sea turtle eggs and hatchlings. Not much can be done about those egg and baby snatchers although “anti-predator” measures have been implemented in certain areas to positive effect. Sharks, killer whales and saltwater crocodiles claim many adult sea turtles plus tens of thousands are maimed and drowned each year by bottom trawling, long-lining or gill-net fishing practices. Are you getting the picture that sea turtles have an uphill battle in life? In human terms we would have to say their mortality rate is over 99% since only about 1 out of every 1000 eggs ever makes it to a mature adult.

So it’s not like sea turtles don’t already have enough going against them. Heck, they can’t even retract their heads and limbs like their land-locked cousins. Then on top of everything else some genius comes along and starts the rumor that sea turtle eggs are an aphrodisiac. Want to take a wild guess at which part of the world is responsible for the highest demand for aphrodisiac reptile eggs? OK, I’ll leave that one alone for now since perhaps I should focus my wrath on those egg thieving “Hueveros” in Mexico.

By some accounts, black market sea turtle eggs can fetch from $100-$300 USD per egg. The trade is so lucrative and relatively low risk that the drug cartels don’t want to be left out of the act. More dinero can be made selling eggs than drugs while facing less prison time if caught. The only downside is that the aphrodisiac egg trade is seasonal. I can only wonder if “huevero-corridos” will ever glorify turtle egg-poachers like “narco-corridos”, the ballads that glamorize and immortalize drug runners.

I paint a bleak picture but at long last the Mexican government is doing something to thwart “turtling” (killing sea turtles for meat and other products) and egg poaching. Olive Ridley sea turtles invade some Mexican beaches by the tens of thousands every year to dig their nests and lay about 100 eggs each. This nesting en masse is called the “arribada” (Spanish for “arrival by sea”) and it presents an irresistible opportunity for Hueveros to wade in with machetes flashing and consciences tucked away in their egg sacks. One Marine that was interviewed said he recalled a year when hundreds of Hueveros charged the beach on horseback brandishing guns and machetes, blasting and hacking away for the glory of helping people on the other side of the globe have better sex lives. That and money I suppose.

Two drones donated to the Marines by Mexico’s College of Environmental Engineers seem to be tipping the scales in the beleaguered sea turtles favor. The 6 rotor hover-bots are equipped with a GPS and camera and have so far proved effective at ferreting out Hueveros as they lie in wait between sand dunes and cacti. These surveillance aircraft have also helped in identifying and mapping footpaths used in the Hueveros egg-laden escape, leading to the recovery of many 1000’s of eggs.

At very least, Hueveros will now have to work harder and take bigger risks if they ever want to be memorialized in a ballad as reward for their eggstreme bravery!


Dedicated to Jude

Published by Bill Hoover


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