From guest blogger, Brad Nahill, Campaign Director for Too Rare To Wear and Co-Founder and President of SEE Turtles
Tortoiseshell conjures up many images in the mind; perhaps a multi-colored cat or the pattern in a pair of eyeglass frames. The pattern is familiar – a mixture of brown, amber, orange, and yellow – but the origin might not be. Tortoiseshell is a bit of a misnomer, they are not from the shell of a tortoise at all. The shell is actually of the hawksbill sea turtle and the products, once common around the world, can still be frequently found in tropical places near the coral reefs that these turtles inhabit.
Tortoiseshell, Past and Present
Tortoiseshell was plastic before plastic was invented. Malleable and beautiful, the shells have been used for thousands of years to make jewelry, combs, fine gifts, and many other items. Japan was the leading country for these products; a study found that more than 2 million shells were exported from around the world to Japan over a 50 year period. Now protected under international treaties, the legal trade of these shells has ended, but the illegal trade continues. SEE Turtles has recently launched the Too Rare To Wear campaign to help end the demand for turtleshell products.
Hawksbills, Too Rare to Wear
Hawksbills are an extremely important animal to have around. They help coral reefs thrive by eating sea sponges that compete with coral for space. Their eggs also help provide nutrients for beach vegetation. And seeing a hawksbill swimming through a reef is a big draw for divers and snorkelers, helping coastal communities earn billions per year in tourism revenue.
Unfortunately, due to the trade in their shells as well as to threats like poaching of their eggs, coastal development, plastic pollution, and global warming, this species is now critically endangered with only an estimated 15,000 adult females around the world.
According to our recent report Endangered Souvenirs, more than 200 stores and vendors in eight countries around Latin America and the Caribbean were found selling these products. More than 10,000 pieces of turtleshell was found for sale with the largest amounts being sold in Nicaragua, Colombia (Cartagena), Costa Rica, Cuba, and Honduras.
Travelers are the biggest consumers of these items, though many don’t realize they are illegally purchasing a product from an endangered species which can result in large fines if brought back to their home country.
What You Can Do to Help
Travelers can help stop the sale of these products by avoiding them while souvenir shopping and telling the shop owners that they won’t buy from anyone selling these products. Another way to help is to share Too Rare To Wear materials on social media.
Thanks for reading and caring! Share a sea turtle fact below for a chance to win this #WorldOceansDay Sweet On Sea Turtles Bundle! Then head over to Too Rare To Wear for a chance to score great turtle swag when you sign their Pledge to Avoid Turtleshell.
Sweet On Sea Turtles Bundle winner selected June 12, 2017 | U.S. shipping addresses only.