What Are Sea Turtle Shells Used For?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Humans have been fascinated by sea turtles since ancient times. The beautiful shells of sea turtles, especially the Hawksbills, are one of the reasons why sea turtles are endangered. People hunt sea turtles to make various products out of their shells. So, you may wonder, what are sea turtle shells used for? 

Sea turtle products are popular in many tourist shops all across the world. The shells are used in making medicine, jewelry, combs, decorative items, attractive trinkets, and even guitar picks.  

In this article, I will talk about what sea turtles are used for, but before that, you should know if buying sea turtle products is legal. 

Are Sea Turtle Shell Products Illegal? 

Sea turtle shells and products made from them are illegal in most countries. So, before buying sea turtle shells or products, make sure it is legal in your country. 

Many reports show that millions of sea turtles have died in the past decades. Hunting sea turtles for their shells is one of the major reasons for the sea turtle population decline. Tourist shops in coastal areas worldwide have been selling turtle shell products to tourists. 

Hence, governments of different countries came forward to ban the sea turtle trade. One hundred seventy-three governments signed an international agreement to protect endangered sea turtles. Most countries signed the agreement in the 1970s. 

Unfortunately, many other countries, like Japan, continued their sea turtle shell trade. Japanese used Hawksbill shells to make their traditional bekko (ornaments and jewelry). The government of Japan finally banned importing sea turtle shells in 1994. 

Although most countries have banned sea turtle shells and products, many black markets still do business related to sea turtle products.

What Are Sea Turtle Shells Used For?

Why are sea turtle shells popular despite being banned by the government? Sea turtles are popular among people because of their vibrant colors and strength. Some cultures even believe sea turtles are the symbol of strength, patience, and good luck. So, many people want to keep parts of sea turtles in their possession. 

Here are some popular products made from sea turtle shells:

1. Japanese Bekko

Bekko is a traditional Japanese product made from the shells of Hawkbills, the most beautiful sea turtle species. The craft of bekko was introduced to Japan by China during the rule of Prince Shotuku in the seventh century. The semi-transparent honey-yellow shells with dark spots are used to make decorative ornaments. 

But the Edo bekko became popular during the Edo period (1603-1867). The Japanese artisans made combs, hair ornaments, clips, boxes, sunglasses, and other items and sold them to the people. Even in the modern age, bekko combs are part of the traditional wedding dress of Japanese women. 

All the bekko products found legally in Japan are made from Hawksbill turtles captured before the 1994 ban. Products made from sea turtle shells after the ban are illegal. But this does not stop poachers from hunting sea turtles for their precious shells. 

2. Guitar Picks

Tortoiseshell guitar picks have been popular for a long time. Shells of Hawksbills and Green Sea turtles are mainly used for making tortoise shell guitar picks. The shells of sea turtles have a beautiful pattern and are durable, making them perfect for stylish guitar picks. 

Many guitarists think that tortoiseshell guitar picks produce better sounds, and it feels nice to use these picks. But using sea turtle guitar picks is ethically wrong. 

Don’t get excited even if you find tortoise shell guitar picks are legal in your country. The process of making tortoise guitar picks is cruel and heartbreaking. 

First, Hawksbills and Green Sea turtles are captured and killed. The turtles can be legally or illegally imported to the guitar pick producers. Then the shells are broken into small pieces to be heated. After heating for some time, the pieces become pliable. Next, they are used to make guitar picks. The general people should be aware of the whole process so that they can know the cruelty sea turtles face to make fancy guitar picks. 

3. Other Products 

People use sea turtle shell products for various purposes all over the world. If you visit markets near sea beaches, you may come across products made of sea turtle shells. Sea turtle shell products are common in Central America and the Caribbean. The local shops sell ornaments made from sea turtle shells, like earrings, bangles, hair clips, and sunglasses to the visiting tourists. They also sell sea turtle shell boxes and wall decorations. 

Most tourists buy sea turtle shell products without understanding the legal and ethical problems they may face after returning to their countries. Most countries have strict laws against buying and selling sea turtle products. 

Why You Should Not Buy Sea Turtle Shell Products

Most sea turtle species have become endangered in the last few years. Humans are mostly responsible for the declining number of sea turtles. If we continue buying sea turtle products, the majestic creatures of the world will soon become extinct. 

If you are traveling where sea turtle shells are available, do not buy them. Avoid purchasing sea turtle products not only because it is illegal but also because it is not morally right to kill a species of animal for entertainment. 

Moreover, sea turtles play an important role in maintaining the marine environment. Without sea turtles, the ecological balance of the oceans will collapse.  

How to Identify Products Made from Sea Turtle Shells? 

You may end up buying turtle shell products unknowingly, as sea turtle shell products resemble other materials like cow horns and plastic. Therefore, it is important to learn how to identify sea turtle shell products when you visit a souvenir shop. 

Here are some tips to avoid buying sea turtle shell products: 

1. Ask What the Products Are Made of

When you buy any products, you can always ask the seller what the products are made of. Most sellers will give tell. If you think the seller is not honest, it is better not to buy from them. 

Before traveling to any new place or country, learn how to ask some questions in the local language. So, learn to ask questions about product material to avoid buying sea turtle products.

2. The Colors and Patterns of Sea Turtle Products

Most sea turtle products are made from Hawksbill Sea turtles. The ornaments made from Hawksbill shells have a sold dark brown color. They have irregular spots that run deep in the material. 

The products should be transparent. The light-colored areas look transparent when you hold the products up to the light. 

3. Flexibility of Sea turtle Products

Sea turtle shell products may look hard. The products can be thin and flexible compared to those made from plastic, seashells, and cow horns. Sea turtle shell products have some elasticity. Hence, they bend quite far before breaking. You can ask the seller to show you the flexibility of their products to ensure you are not buying sea turtle shells. 

Before You Go

Want to learn more about buying sea turtles and shells? Then read the following articles to learn more.

Can You Buy A Sea Turtle Shell?

Are Sea Turtles Illegal? [Most Common Questions Answered]

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


This site is owned and operated by Muntaseer Rahman. TheTurtleHub.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.