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A hawksbill turtle swimming through a reef, Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea © Jürgen Freund / WWF

Surrender your Shell: Frequently Asked Questions

  • Surrender Your Shell FAQ
  • Q. What is Surrender Your Shell?
    A.
    - Surrender Your Shell is an initiative between WWF-Australia, Royal Carribean International and Australian Museum to help protect the critically endangered hawksbill turtle and help put an end to the illegal trade of tortoiseshell.

    - Technology is used to extract DNA from surrendered tortoiseshell products.

    - Samples are added to a DNA database known as ShellBank, which will help identify hawksbill populations most at risk from the illegal tortoiseshell trade by tracing hawksbills products from sale to their nesting beach.
  • Q. What is ShellBank?
    A. ShellBank is a comprehensive genetic database of hawksbill turtle populations, made up of data from surrendered tortoiseshell items and samples from nesting females. This information helps establish the genetic baseline and helps us better understand where turtles have been harvested.
  • Q. What tortoiseshell products can I surrender?
    A.
    - Any products that are made from real marine turtle shell (tortoiseshell) and most likely from the hawksbill turtle.

    - Tortoiseshell has been widely used and items made from real tortoiseshell can include jewellery, trinkets, combs, hair clips, guitar picks, sunglasses, knitting needles, frames, artwork, boxes and inlays in furniture.
  • Q. How can I tell if I have real or fake tortoiseshell?
    A.
    - Fake tortoiseshell products often use materials like plastic, coconut or bone.

    - Fake tortoiseshell products feature uniform pattern markings.

    - Real tortoiseshell products are brown, orange, amber and yellow in colour.

    - Real tortoiseshell patterns are asymmetric and feature irregular patterns.

    - Real tortoiseshell items colour pattern is visible throughout.

    - If you are unsure you can still surrender your item and the team will assess if it’s real or fake.
  • Q. I’m not Australia-based can I surrender my shell?
    A. - Surrender Your Shell is an Australian-only program. Only Australia residents can surrender their shell.

    - For information about tortoiseshell outside of Australia, please contact your local authority.
  • Q. What will happen to the tortoiseshell products I submit?
    A.
    - Any items you surrender will be curated and select samples sent to the Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics at the Australian Museum in Sydney where the DNA will be extracted and sequenced. The DNA data generated will be compared against the ShellBank reference database to estimate the population origin of the turtle.

    - After completion of the project, the tortoiseshell product will either be retained by the Australian Museum and become part of their Herpetology Collection, for future scientists to study, or handed over to the Australian Government.
  • Q. Is it illegal to own tortoiseshell products?
    A.
    - Yes, if brought into Australia without specific permits post 1977. In 1977, international commercial trade in hawksbill turtles and their parts was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates cross-border trade in wildlife.

    - For a six month period from 3 December 2020 the Australian Government has adopted a policy so that you can send your tortoiseshell products to WWF-Australia along with the details of where and when they were purchased, you will not be subject to compliance action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
  • Q. It is illegal to own tortoiseshell, so will I be prosecuted if I submit a tortoiseshell product?
    A.
    - No. During the six month period from 3 December 2020, the Australian Government have adopted a policy that if you send your tortoiseshell products to WWF-Australia, along with the details of where and when it was purchased you will not be subject to compliance action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
  • Q. What will happen if I keep my tortoiseshell product past the six month window?
    A.
    - Since 1977, it has been illegal to own a tortoiseshell product without specific permits.

    - For a six month period only, the Australian Government has adopted a policy that you may send your tortoiseshell products to WWF-Australia for scientific analysis. After this period, you are at risk of compliance action under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), if you are found to have tortoiseshell in your possession.
  • Q. How can I surrender my tortoiseshell products?
    A.
    - WWF-Australia is providing a unique opportunity for you to surrender your tortoiseshell products, and add to the ShellBank database.

    - For a six month period from 3 December 2020, Australian residents can send their tortoiseshell products to WWF-Australia, along with the details of where and when they were purchased without the risk of compliance action under the EPBC Act.

    - Complete the questionnaire on www.wwf.org.au/surrenderyourshell for each piece of tortoiseshell that you are surrendering and post your tortoiseshell items to WWF-Australia.

    - You’ll be required to package the items at your own expense. Anything that you already have on hand including envelopes will suffice.

    - If the tortoiseshell items being surrendered are less than 500g, you can use Australia Post’s eParcel portal (an email will be sent to you once the questionnaire is complete) or visit a Post Office local to you.

    - If the tortoiseshell items being surrendered weigh more than 500g, customers are encouraged to send by visiting a Post Office and sending via standard post.

    - Please contact WWF-Australia: enquiries@wwf.org.au if the products in your possession are not suited to being posted. WWF-Australia may organise a courier service on an as-needs basis.
  • Q. How do I post my tortoiseshell items?
    A.
    - During the six month period from 3 December 2020, you can post your tortoiseshell items to WWF-Australia through Australia Post.

    - You’ll need to complete the questionnaire on www.wwf.org.au/surrenderyourshell. The information you provide about where the item was purchased and when, helps us to understand trade routes and potential poaching hot spots.

    - Print a copy of the WWF-Australia confirmation email or write down the unique identification number from the email for each piece of tortoiseshell surrendered and attach to your surrendered product. You can post your item by visiting a Post Office, or use the Australia Post eParcel Portal linked in the email from WWF-Australia once you have completed the questionnaire.

    - For parcels less than 500g sent through Australia Post’s eParcel Portal users will pay $8.95 (including GST). However for the first 100 parcels sent, WWF-Australia will pay the eParcel fee for you, but you will still be required to package your item/s at your own expense.

    Parcels registered using the eParcels Return Portal can be lodged and sent by:
    - Printing Australia Post’s eParcel ID labels at home, and affixing to your own packaging, then depositing in an Australia Post box.
    - Visiting a Post Office with your eParcel ID on your preferred device. The Post Office can print the labels for you free of charge and affix to your packaging, or the Port Office can provide packaging for the items at your expense.

    - Parcels weighing more than 500g, must be lodged at a Post Office. Visit a Post Office with your printed WWF-Australia confirmation email, and package the surrendered items appropriately. The customer will pay for postage and any packaging required.

    - For any oversized items, please contact WWF-Australia. Couriers may be organised for collection on an as-needs basis.
  • Q. What should I include in my parcel?
    A.
    - Include all of the items you are surrendering as well as each unique identifier assigned and attached to your individual pieces of tortoiseshell.

    - You’ll receive an email with your unique identifier once you have completed the Surrender Your Shell questionnaire. - It is important to attach your unique identifier so we can match up your questionnaire and shell products.
  • Q. How do I access the free eParcel service?
    A.
    - The first 100 customers to send their surrendered tortoiseshell items through the Australia Post eParcel Returns portal will be paid for by WWF-Australia.
  • Q. How much will it cost to post my tortoiseshell items?
    A.
    - For parcels less than 500g through Australia Post’s eParcel Portal users will pay $8.95 (including GST). You are required to use your own packaging (whatever you would normally use to send a parcel in the post (i.e. brown paper or envelopes are adequate).

    - For customers who wish to lodge their packages in person at a Post Office which are less than 500g you can use your own packaging and pay for postage only or pay $9.20 for a small satchel.

    - For parcels weighing more than 500g, customers can calculate postage costs by visiting Australia Post’s website.

    - For oversized or heavy items, please contact WWF-Australia (enquiries@wwf.org.au) as a courier service may be provided on an as-needs basis.
  • Q. What if the tortoiseshell product I own has sentimental value or is worth a lot of money? Is there compensation?
    A.
    - It is illegal to own real tortoiseshell products in Australia and people in possession of products face the risk of compliance action under the EPBC Act.

    - WWF-Australia are offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to surrender your tortoiseshell items without the risk of facing compliance action under the EPBC Act.

    - By surrendering your tortoiseshell you play an important part in helping to protect the endangered hawksbill turtle.
  • Q. What if I want to submit but remain anonymous?
    A.
    - WWF-Australia requires a name and an email address to complete the Surrender Your Shell questionnaire.

    - We require your email address to send you a unique identifier which matches the invaluable information you have provided (product type, date of purchase, purchase location etc) to the individual piece of tortoiseshell.
  • Q. How will WWF-Australia use my personal data?
    A.
    - WWF-Australia will only use the personal information collected for contacting people, who agree to be contacted for scientific purposes in regards to their surrendered tortoiseshell.

    - All information collected is captured in line with WWF’s privacy policy.
  • Q. How do I keep track of what happens to my tortoiseshell product, e.g. the DNA info?
    A.
    - All surrendered shells are curated into a database and a sub-sample or select samples will be analysed by the Australian Museum.

    - Due to the quantity of samples received and complexity of the DNA analysis, we are not able to inform you of the DNA data of your specific product surrendered.

    - But your pieces of tortoiseshell are very important and could help to identify poaching hotspots.

    - At the conclusion of the project, a report will be produced and shared on WWF’s website.
  • Q. I don’t have tortoiseshell products to surrender but have seen it for sale, how do I report this?
    A.
    - If you suspect someone is in possession of an illegally imported shell we would encourage members of the public to notify the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

    - Any information can be provided by emailing the Department at wildlifetrade.compliance@environment.gov.au. All reports are treated with the highest confidentiality and may be made anonymously.

    - If you are outside of Australia, please contact your local authority.
  • Q. How does surrendering tortoiseshell protect turtles?
    A.
    - Using DNA from the surrendered tortoiseshell products, as well as the invaluable information provided through the questionnaire including where and when the item was purchased, we can trace the shell back to the turtle’s original nesting population.

    - Hawksbills from different regions are genetically distinct. By tracing 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 - ShellBank - enables us to identify those hawksbills most at risk so we can improve turtle protection.

    - WWF-Australia will work with local communities, governments and other stakeholders to identify what is driving the illegal trade and putting in place measures to protect populations most at risk and help to end the trade.
  • Q. What is Royal Caribbean involvement in Surrender Your Shell?
    A.
    - Royal Caribbean have partnered with WWF-Australia to help raise awareness of the plight of hawksbill turtles and help end the illegal trade of tortoiseshell products from source to demand. Including providing funding for WWF-Australia’s work on-the-ground and with international policy makers.

    - Anyone travelling to places across the Pacific could mistakenly purchase souvenirs made of real hawksbill shell. Royal Caribbean are uniquely placed to speak directly to guests who travel the Asia-Pacific region each year about the hawksbill's plight and equip them with the right knowledge to help them avoid purchasing real tortoiseshell souvenirs.

    - WWF-Australia is working with partners to extract DNA from tortoiseshell products, such as earrings, bracelets and other trinkets. Developing a DNA database, ShellBank, that will help identify hawksbill populations most at risk from the illegal tortoiseshell trade by tracing hawksbills products from sale to their nesting beaches.

    - WWF-Australia is working alongside scientists and local communities to better understand why and what is driving the trade, putting in place measures to protect populations most at risk and help to end the trade.

    - As well as conducting research to understand the social, economic and environmental importance of sea turtles to our oceans and the communities that depend on them.
  • Q. What is WWF-Australia doing to stop poaching?
    A.
    - Hawksbill turtles are a migratory species and travel from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to islands like Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

    - Thanks to the support of Royal Caribbean, WWF-Australia is working, in collaboration to extract DNA from tortoiseshell products. Together, we will build a DNA database - ShellBank - to help identify hawksbill populations most at risk from the illegal tortoiseshell trade by tracing hawksbills products from sale to their nesting beach.

    - WWF-Australia will work with local communities, governments and other stakeholders to identify what is driving the illegal trade and steps that can be taken to implement effective zero poaching practices and policies.

    - WWF-Australia will raise awareness and educate its supporters and Royal Caribbean guests about the illegal trade of tortoiseshell products. Educating guests who travel in the Asia-Pacific region each year, we can equip tourists with the right information to help them avoid buying tortoiseshell products and reduce demand.

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