Before 1950, around 10 million of the turtles came to the shores of Mexico to nest. But in the '60s, aggressive poaching of the females and their eggs led to a sharp decline in that subset of the population, with some nesting beaches disappearing entirely.
The sale of turtle meat and eggs has been illegal in Mexico for years, but the trade remains active and vicious. Individual eggs can be sold for almost a dollar a piece, and the beach holds hundreds of thousands of them during the breeding season. Officials report that some 80 percent of the species' eggs were stolen earlier this year, when Marines guarding the area were called away for just a night.
By monitoring the beaches with the new drones, officials hope to deter poachers, as well as figure out where they're most likely to access the beach.