Inside A Covert Mission To Defeat Poachers In Nicaragua

Scientists and armed guards were about to trick thieves into revealing their criminal networks. Then Hurricane Otto showed up

At about the same moment I board a flight from Los Angeles to Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, a tropical cyclone is quietly forming over the southwestern Caribbean sea. My plan—which I detailed in the Winter issue of GOOD—is to join conservationists on a covert mission to trick sea turtle egg poachers into swiping hyper-realistic decoy eggs along with those containing GPS and Bluetooth tracking devices. If all goes smoothly, we’ll gain unprecedented insight into a vast, underground criminal network linked with a shadowy black market stretching from Central America to Asia.

But by the time I’m scheduled to land—around lunchtime on a tropical winter afternoon—the cyclone will have intensified into a full-blown hurricane. Though science journalism isn’t without some degree of risk, my biodiversity beat means I’m usually able to mitigate risks with a sufficient application of mosquito-killing DEET. I’m not a storm-chaser by either trade or personality; I’m an observer of creatures wilder than myself, under the supervision of expert scientists.

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How A Hollywood Prop Artist Could Help Stop Poaching At Its Source

Conservationists are using special effects to trick thieves into revealing their criminal networks

Sea turtles have been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 100 million years, but today, six of seven total species are threatened with extinction. Four of those nest on the Pacific beaches of Nicaragua: the olive ridley, hawksbill, leatherback, and Pacific green.

Though the nation’s indigenous cultures have eaten sea turtle eggs for centuries, illegal poaching has drastically reduced populations. Prized as a delicacy and aphrodisiac, a single egg can fetch $300 on the black market. But many Nicaraguans—scraping by in Latin America’s weakest economy—are willing to settle for $1-3 per dozen. One nest can hold up to 120 eggs; an unprotected beach offers thousands of eggs for the taking.

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GOOD Science: What Is “Coral Bleaching” And Just How Bad Is It?

Ocean reefs around the globe are losing their luster—but scientists say there’s hope

Last week, scientists delivered the news that more than 90% of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is suffering from bleaching. Researchers flew in helicopters and small planes over 911 of the individual reefs that comprise the Great Barrier Reef and found that only 68 of them had escaped bleaching entirely. Many of the rest have turned a ghostly white. "It's like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once," said Terry Hughes, a researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and head of Australia's National Coral Bleaching Task Force.

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