Surrender Your Shell is a joint conservation project between WWF-Australia and the Australian Museum, supported by Royal Caribbean International.

Thank you for your support

An estimated 9 million hawksbills were harvested between 1844 and 1992 with their beautiful shell supplying the tortoiseshell industry. The groundbreaking Surrender Your Shell is helping to protect today's Critically Endangered hawskbill turtles from poaching.  There were 328 tortoiseshell products, including salad servers, hairpins, necklaces, bracelets and even bookmarks, donated to the project by members of the public, wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the Federal Government. Cutting edge technology was then used to extract DNA from the surrendered tortoiseshell items and traced them back to specific turtle populations from all over the world. How does this work? Hawksbill turtles from different regions are genetically distinct and when their DNA is added to our ShellBank database through donated items, it enables us to identify where the most at-risk and targeted hawksbill turtles populations are.

A graphic depicting the process behind the Surrender Your Shell project. First, users visit the WWF website and fill out a survey about the tortoiseshell product they have. They then attach a unique ID number to the product and send it to WWF. DNA is then extracted from the products and data is collected by the Australian Museum and used to assist in conservation management.
© WWF-Australia

Results showed the donated items were originally purchased from hotspots all over the world, including Italy, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, South Pacific islands, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Australia, South Africa, the Maldives Thailand, Vietnam, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Hong Kong.

The DNA was then checked against ShellBank. Of the 62 hawksbill products successfully sequenced, DNA indicated 3.2% were likely from Japan (foraging area not nesting beaches), 3.2% Caribbean, 8.1% Eastern Malaysia, 11.3% unknown, 24.2% Southwest Pacific, and 50% had genetic variants common across the Indian and Pacific oceans. Identifying these high-poaching locations will help inform future conservation efforts for hawksbill turtles by informing authorities where policing and intervention is needed most.

What is ShellBank and how does it help turtles in the wild?

All female marine turtles return to their birth region to breed and lay eggs. Over thousands of years, turtle populations have developed a genetic signature unique to each nesting region.

If we can trace the tortoiseshell used in products back to its original nesting population, we can identify those populations that have been targeted in the past and may still be targeted today. Building this DNA database - known as ShellBank - enables us to identify those hawksbills most at risk so we can improve turtle protection.

A hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming above corals in Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras
A hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming above corals in Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras © Antonio Busiello / WWF-US

How do I identify real tortoiseshell?

It can often be hard to tell the difference between real and fake tortoiseshell. Below, we share some tips so you can learn how to tell the difference. However, your safest bet is to Think Before You Buy and avoid these products altogether.

How to identify fake vs real tortoiseshell
© WWF-Australia

Why is this important?

An estimated 9 million hawksbill turtles have been traded for their shell over the past 150 years. Although the international trade in hawksbill turtles and their shell was banned in 1977, an illegal trade continues. Thanks to you, donated tortoiseshell products have been added to ShellBank and will help to play a vital role in the survival of this species.

You can find out more in the Surrender Your Shell Report.

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