How Drones and Marines Are Helping Save Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

How Drones and Marines Are Helping Save Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

The heartbreaking viral video of one Olive Ridley turtle getting a straw removed from its nose made headlines, but the sad truth is that the entire species is crying out “S.O.S.” The turtles don’t need to be saved from plastic — they need to be saved from poachers. After centuries of overexploitation, Mexico is enlisting the help drones and marines to save the turtles in the beaches of Escobilla and Morro Ayuta.

Cracking Down on Egg Extraction, Commercialization, Sale and Distribution

It’s an amazing sight to behold. Starting in May, droves of turtles appear on Mexican beaches and get to work. They’ll scoop holes in the sand about two feet deep. The mothers will carefully place their eggs in them, using the sand to incubate. At peak, there could be thousands of turtles on the beach at once. But human greed is stopping these eggs from ever hatching.

As reported in teleSUR, Mexico’s is devoting $4 million to buy drones to survey the popular egg-laying beaches. And Mexico is using some of its highest intelligence to catch the poachers in the act and dismantle their entire network. Apart from capturing the physical egg extraction on film, government officials will also investigate the commercialization, sale and distribution of the eggs.

The goal of the initiative is to eradicate the illegal activity. The combination of drones and marines looks promising. In the past month, with only two drones, footage of locals stealing hundreds of turtle eggs has been captured. If eggs are retrieved within a few days — before the fetus develops — then they can be returned to incubation. Otherwise, the eggs will be sold for $0.90 each.

Saving the Olive Ridley Turtles Won’t Be Easy

But the fight to save the Olive Ridley turtles won’t be easy. This isn’t Mexico’s first rodeo trying to save the Olive Ridley turtles and their eggs. The military has been involved in their protection before. In 1996, the military was forced to abandon the beaches and an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 eggs were stolen.

The incentive to steal the eggs isn’t entirely monetary. Obviously, money is a factor. But there’s more to the story. Stealing the turtle eggs only became a crime resulting in federal prison two decades ago. Consuming turtle meat and eggs and using turtle skin dates back to the ancient civilizations of the Americas. As one local told NPR, “You make a small hole, put lemon and chili, and it is delicious. That’s one of our pre-Hispanic dishes — before the Spanish arrived, our people would eat them.” Like rhino horn, there’s also a bogus claim that turtle eggs are a type of aphrodisiac.

But the Mexican government can no longer keep its head buried in the sand — the time to protect the Olive Ridley turtles is now. Without any protection, the struggling turtles are doomed. According to the IUCN Red List, “On unprotected solitary nesting beaches (most are unprotected), egg extraction often approaches 100%.”

On top of the egg stealing, the species is also still trying to recover from centuries of overexploitation. In Mexico’s Pacific coast during the 1960s, over 1 million turtles were slaughtered for their meat and skin. While this practice is illegal today, turtles continued to be slaughtered and sold on the black market.

Do you think the presence of drones and marine intelligence will be enough to save the Olive Ridley turtles? Let us know in the comments below.

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