Life below water: Endangered turtle hunted for its unique shell
Updated 10:28, 02-Mar-2019
By Xu Chenlu, Zhu Yingming

The hawksbill sea turtle lives primarily in the warm waters of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

Named for its distinctive beak-shaped mouth, this sea turtle is best known for its amber-colored shell with irregular dark brown patterns.

The hawksbill sea turtle's characteristic beak-shaped mouth. /VCG Photo

The hawksbill sea turtle's characteristic beak-shaped mouth. /VCG Photo

The beautiful shell makes the perfect disguise for the hawksbill sea turtle in the coral reefs. However, it also spells disaster of being over-exploited.

The hawksbill sea turtle was listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1982, and then as critically endangered only four years later. It is under first-class protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In China, it's also under state protection.

Unique brown patterns on the shell are featured in jewelry and art. /VCG Photo

Unique brown patterns on the shell are featured in jewelry and art. /VCG Photo

In many parts of the world, its shells are used as tokens of art and culture, often imbued with a sense of nobility.

In the famous Chinese poem "The Peacock Flies Southeast," the protagonist Liu Lanzhi wears a delicate hairpin made of its shell.

Hawksbill sea turtle's shells have been made into ornaments and decorations for centuries. As a result, the turtle has been over-hunted.

A hawksbill sea turtle hunts in the reef. /VCG Photo

A hawksbill sea turtle hunts in the reef. /VCG Photo

According to the IUCN Red List Standards and Petition Subcommittee, hawksbill sea turtle populations decreased by 80 percent over the last three generations, and evidence suggests it is due to the shell's trade.

To protect the hawksbill sea turtle, China has adopted a series of laws and regulations. Turtle shell trafficking is considered a serious crime.

The China Sea Turtles Conservation Alliance was officially established in Sanya City of south China's Hainan Province on May 23, 2018, coinciding with the 19th annual World Turtle Day.

A hawksbill sea turtle rests beside coral. /VCG Photo

A hawksbill sea turtle rests beside coral. /VCG Photo

Several nature reserves have also been established. As China's only nature reserve for sea turtles, the Gangkou Sea Turtle National Nature Reserve in southern Guangdong Province was designed to ensure the spawning ground for these creatures.

Voices on raising the protection level for sea turtles have been getting louder over the years. The hawksbill sea turtle, alongside with other endangered turtles, requires protection on a more global level before its possible extinction.

Life below water

World Wildlife Day was established by the United Nations in 2013 to raise people's awareness of protecting wild animals and plants on Earth. This year on March 3, the theme is “Life Below Water: For People and the Planet.” In this series, we're presenting the diverse marine lives in China, focusing on the endangered ones such as the Yangtze finless porpoise and spotted seals that are in need of protection by the government, NGOs and individuals.

(Cover image: A hawksbill sea turtle. /VCG Photo)

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at nature@cgtn.com.)