You probably will not be surprised to know that there are a number of endangered turtle species. In Florida alone, there are said to be five different species of sea turtle which are either threatened or endangered.
The endangered species list includes the leatherback, the Kemp’s ridley, the green, and the hawksbill, with the latter turtle still having its shell turned into jewelry and sold in Japan.
Known as Bekko, it is pleasing on the eye for many and highly sought after, despite the fact the hawksbill turtle is on its way to extinction.
They have been on the critically endangered list for over ten years, yet their shell is still being fashioned into little trinkets, cigarette boxes, and combs.
In this article we shall take a look at the high demand of sea turtle products and how it causes an impact for many.
Why Is There A Demand For Hawksbill Sea Turtle Shells?
Hawksbill sea turtles are known for their beautiful shell which has the colors of brown and gold on the surface. It is so beautiful that it has been sought after for many years by hunters to create luxury jewelry and other items.
Because of this, hawksbill sea turtles are now considered critically endangered, which means that they could become extinct. It is said the worst hit areas are along the Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as the coast of the Caribbean.
Whilst hunting for hawksbill sea turtles and using their shell is illegal in most places, there is still a high demand for their attractive shells to this day, especially in Japan.
However, it is through the black market that they are traded, meaning that they are still being acquired via what is called the illegal shell trade.
Japan calls the shell ‘bekko’ which is translated to ‘hawksbill shell’. Their use of the shell goes back more than 300 years. Because of this, the shell has become an important piece of a traditional wedding dress in Japan.
Because this was seen as such an important part of their culture, the demand for the hawksbill shell rose, contributing to the trade that was happening internationally which caused a decline in hawksbill sea turtles by the 20th century.
A lot of people are not aware of the danger that the hawksbill sea turtle is in, so many tourists will buy the bekko items without understanding the consequences of supporting such a trade.
It isn’t just the hawksbill sea turtle either, there are many other turtles who are sadly killed to be used for luxury items.
Who Buys Turtle Shell Items?
Because Japan has been known to sell bekko items since the 1600s (thanks to Tokugawa Ieyasu who was the ruler at the time), by the 1800s, Japan was known as selling the best and most luxurious bekko available.
Even though the selling of hawksbill sea turtle shells had begun around the 1800s in places like the Americas and Europe, people still sought out Japan’s bekko.
Today, if you go to Enoshima in Japan, you are likely to still find turtle shell jewelry and trinkets. The people who buy them are likely to be tourists who have no idea what the devastating effects have been to acquire the shells.
Not only that, sea turtles are needed to help the ocean’s ecosystem. Without them, the sponges that they feed on would take over the other coral species that are also trying to compete for space to grow, causing them to become extinct too.
How Have The American Government Acted To Save The Hawksbill Sea Turtle?
Unfortunately, many scientists believe that there has been a 90 percent decline of hawksbill sea turtles within the last 100 years, likely due to being hunted for their shells.
Because of this high number, an agreement which was proposed nationally was signed by 173 different governments.
It was known as the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). It was set up to help the survival rate of endangered species, and doing so made the trading of the hawksbill sea turtle shells illegal.
Is It Illegal To Buy Or Sell Sea Turtle Products?
America has banned the importing, selling or buying of sea turtle items, whether that is in cosmetics and beauty products, to clothing and jewelry.
Many countries across the globe have implemented the same law because they have also seen the devastating affects the shell trade has had on sea turtles.
Whilst it is prohibited by law to have turtle shell items across the United States, it is the most popular form of contraband that is removed from tourists returning from the Caribbean.
This is because whilst they are out of America, they might pick up turtle shell items due to them being luxury and unavailable to buy legally in the U.S.
Are There Other Threats To The Hawksbill Sea Turtle?
Yes, there are other threats when it comes to the hawksbill sea turtle. Not only are they killed for their shells, but they also get caught as bycatch and unnecessarily discarded.
They also have to suffer with polluted water which will eventually kill them, eating plastic by accident and dying from the toxins that are produced, and losing their natural habitat due to humans.
There are said to be less than around 25,000 of them still in the wild, and the number is only plummeting year upon year.
Whilst the sea turtle shell trade is illegal, it hasn’t stopped people from trading them on the black market. Worth thousands of dollars, killing sea turtles – such as hawksbill sea turtles – is causing them to become critically endangered.
If people become aware of the process of how items like becco come about, then they may stop buying the products.
Hopefully one day we can get the numbers of sea turtles back up, but in the meantime, we can spread awareness of this horrible trade and how it is causing sea turtles to be in danger of extinction.