After a three-month survey across 600 souvenir shops in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Cuba, Grenada and Colombia, researchers from 12 conservation organizations discovered that 30 percent of the establishments sold products made from endangered hawksbill sea turtles. Gifts ranged from $1 bracelets and rings to $200 for an intricate comb. Of the countries surveyed, Nicaragua had the highest percentage of souvenir shops carrying gifts from this endangered species: 70 percent and 7,000 items.
Hawksbill turtles can live an estimated 30 to 50 years in the wild, where they frequent the tropical waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. They prefer shallower coastlines, eating sponges, mollusks, crustaceans, sea urchins and more. The species is critically endangered as a result of human harvesting, not only for gifts, but also for food. In the past century, this species of sea turtle has declined by 90 percent. Without them, coastal reef ecosystems can become overcrowded with the sponges that hawksbill sea turtles like to munch on, further damaging this already pressured habitat.
Tourists and travelers, especially from North America and Europe, pay the most for these products, and cruise ship passengers are often their primary purchasers. “Our research will help inspire tourists traveling to the Caribbean and Latin America to be part of the solution by helping them to purchase wisely,” said Brad Nahill, President and Co-Founder of SEE Turtles, Director of Too Rare To Wear and a co-author of the report.
The report will be used by the Too Rare To Wear campaign, an initiative aimed at educating travelers and the travel industry in general about the peril faced by hawksbill sea turtles, and encourage them to avoid turtleshell gifts.
“Cruise ship passengers in particular need to be discerning when purchasing souvenirs. Several sellers of turtleshell reported that their top purchasers come from international cruise ships, and these companies have an opportunity to help stop this trade by educating their clients on how to avoid turtleshell products,” said Nahill.
Erika Zambello is a writer and photographer currently living on the Emerald Coast of Florida. She has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, where she specialized in Ecosystem Science and Conservation. She is also a National Geographic Young Explorer, completing four trips to the Maine North Woods in each of the four seasons, Fall 2015-Summer 2016.
In addition to acting as the sole blogger for the entire Florida State Park system, she is a regular contributor to the Duke Nicholas School, the Maine Sportsman, Bangor Daily News, and 10000 Birds. In the past she has written for The Conservation Fund, the Triangle Land Conservancy, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, BirdWatching Daily, Guy Harvey Magazine, and the Florida Sportsman. Finally, she is the founder and managing editor of the travel website One World, Two Feet, co-founder of TerraCommunications, as well as the co-managing editor for the award-winning online magazine Voices for Biodiversity.
Follow her daily adventures on Instagram, or zambellophotography.com.