Mexican officials have announced they are deploying drones on beaches in Oaxaca in a bid to curb the illegal poaching of protected turtles and their eggs.
Every year, the endangered Olive Ridley turtles return to the country’s coast to lay their eggs in the sand.
Though the sale of turtle meat and eggs has been illegal in Mexico for decades the trade remains active. Eggs can be sold for almost a dollar a piece, and the beach holds hundreds of thousands of them during the breeding season. Only a tiny amount survive – if they are not poached, they are hunted by birds, dogs or crabs.
Officials hope their new eyes in the sky will help spot the poachers’ routes.
“From the air, it’s easy to identify the paths,” says environmental inspector Edgar Ferrusquilla. “When someone walks, they leave a track and when many people walk along that track, then a path appears. So this equipment (referring to the drone) helps us identify that kind of access from land which we can’t see from the ground because of the hills and the vegetation.”
Before 1950, around 10 million turtles came to the shores of Mexico to nest. But aggressive poaching of the females and their eggs in the Sixties led to a sharp decline in the population, with some nesting beaches disappearing entirely.
It remains to be seen whether such measures will dissuade poachers from practicing their lucrative trade, especially considering the drones only work during the day, and that poachers often take advantage of the dark of night to steal the eggs.