Legally, fossils cannot be exported. Dr Boessenecker said: “The establishment of the fossil market and the difficulty of tracking fossils after they have been collected means that all bets fail.
“New Zealand remains a pioneer society,” said Richard Holdaway, a paleontologist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. “And if it’s there, and I want it, I’ll go and get it.”
He added: “Some of us are working behind the scenes to improve that protection, but it’s a long-term job.”
John Long, a paleontologist at Flinders University in Australia and author of the book “Dinosaur Traders,” says fossil collection laws vary around the world.
“Politicians are not interested in making laws,” he said. “It’s a terrible situation, but dare I say, things are going as they are.”
For those at Karamea, a cherished experience will be no more.
“You just feel like something is ripping,” said David Guppy, who lives in the area. He added, “Even if they are found to be false and the fossils are brought back – I mean, it’s not the same.”
But with prosecution seemingly unlikely, it’s a long way. “Legality – I don’t know,” said Dr Holdaway, a New Zealand paleontologist. “But morally? It is utter destruction of the environment. “