toggle menu
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming underwater, Nosy Be, North Madagascar © / Inaki Relanzon / WWF

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming underwater, Nosy Be, North Madagascar © / Inaki Relanzon / WWF

Think Before You Buy

Hawksbill turtles are one of the most beautiful and important marine species. They help maintain the health of our reefs by dining on algae and sea sponges, they help to promote coral growth and regeneration, and give reef residents access to food sources. In fact, our very own Great Barrier Reef is home to a vital breeding population of these unique turtles.

As hawksbill turtles are migratory animals, they travel ancient migration routes through the warm waters of the Asia-Pacific through islands like Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. But sadly, danger lurks ahead...




A deadly trade
These precious turtles are being hunted for their shells, commonly known as ‘tortoiseshell’. Their shell is made up of a unique pattern of ambers, yellows and browns. Once they leave the safety of the Great Barrier Reef, they are hunted and turned into souvenirs and trinkets such as jewellery, hair combs, sunglasses and ornaments.

Unfortunately, holidaymakers are unwittingly helping to push the hawksbill turtle to the brink of extinction by purchasing exotic tortoiseshell souvenirs while overseas.

Think before you buy
Though hawksbill products were banned internationally in the 1990s, the illegal trade continues. A new demand has re-emerged, putting these beautiful marine turtles at risk. Not only is it illegal to buy tortoiseshell in many countries, but upon returning home, travellers may face seizures and large fines.

Any Australian heading overseas to countries like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, mainland China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea could mistakenly purchase souvenirs made of REAL hawksbill shell.

WWF has partnered with another regular Pacific traveller - Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) - to highlight the hawksbill's plight and help halt the illegal trade of tortoiseshell.

If you have a tortoiseshell item in your possession, now is the time to Surrender Your Shell. By surrendering your tortoiseshell products - you can add to our ground-breaking ShellBank and help to play a part in the survival of this species. To support this initiative, the Australian Government has adopted a policy that for a six month period from 1 December 2020, you may send your tortoiseshell products to us, along with details of where and when they were purchased, without the risk of prosecution. Learn more and Surrender Your Shell today.




Hawksbill jewellery for sale at central markets, Honiara, March 2017 © Christine Hof / WWF-Aus

Hawksbill jewellery for sale at central markets, Honiara. © Christine Hof / WWF-Aus

A 75% decline of hawksbill turtles

Hawksbill turtles are now listed as globally endangered. In the last 100 years, their population has declined dramatically. It’s estimated that there are only 4,800 breeding females left in the Pacific Ocean.

All sea turtles face threats from poaching, plastic pollution, being captured in fishing gear and climate change. But hawksbill turtles face a unique threat due to their precious shells.
How to identify fake vs real tortoiseshell © SEE Turtles / WWF-Australia

How to identify fake vs real tortoiseshell © SEE Turtles / WWF-Australia

Think before you buy

Fake tortoiseshell products often use materials like plastic, coconut and bone.


It can often be hard to tell the difference between real and fake tortoiseshell. When in doubt, choose to say no and opt for a more ethical and sustainable souvenir.


For more information on how to tell real vs fake, visit Too Rare to Wear

Hawksbill hatchling, Milman Island, February 2017 © WWF-Aus / Christine Hof

Hawksbill hatchling, Milman Island, February 2017 © WWF-Aus / Christine Hof

Timeline of the project

2018-19: Develop DNA detection technology with partners.

2019-21: Establish ‘Shell Bank’ - an opportunity for Australians to donate historically purchased tortoiseshell product for testing.

2018-19: Evaluate the social, cultural, economic and environmental importance of hawksbill turtles.

2019-21: Establish the current market trends of the hawksbill turtle trade in a demand country and implement the DNA detection tool.

2018-21: Lead transboundary policy reform for zero poaching.

{{thankYouPopup.firstname}} {{thankYouPopup.lastname}}

Thank you for your {{thankYouPopup.isMonthly ? 'monthtly' : ''}} donation of ${{ thankYouPopup.amount }}

Please check your email for confirmation


If you have any questions about your donation, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly Supporter Services team either by email: or call 1800 032 551

Share this page with your friends and family to help endangered animals even more.