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Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are exploited for their beautiful shell known as tortoiseshell or bekko, making them extremely vulnerable in the illegal global trade of tortoiseshell products. In this study, we developed an effective, standardized method using a commercially available kit to extract DNA and obtain informative mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences (~800 bp) from hawksbill turtle products in order to trace the sample back to a likely stock origin. We also sequenced additional skin samples from nesting beaches of Milman Island, Australia and Arnavon Island, Solomon Islands to add to the baseline data for hawksbill turtles in the Indo-Pacific. Our results indicate that nine of the 13 tortoiseshell products obtained from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands were from turtles with haplotypes found primarily at the Solomon Islands rookery and did not match those from nesting populations in Australia or SE Asia, with the exception of one haplotype also found in 3% of turtles at Milman Island. We also found that 23% of the market samples have haplotypes only documented in foraging populations, which illustrates the urgent need for more extensive sampling of rookeries to fill gaps in the reference baseline database. Nevertheless, our study results demonstrate an effective methodology for obtaining DNA of sufficient quantity and quality from hawksbill turtle products.

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