An Overview Of Our Solution
Hawksbills are among the most endangered sea turtles, listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, with only an estimated 15,000 adult females remaining. Their biggest threat is the continuing tortoiseshell trade which still exists in dozens of countries. Two of the main impediments to stopping this trade are a lack of enforcement of existing laws in some locations and a lack of awareness among consumers. In many hotspots for this trade, law enforcement and government agencies have other priorities or lack technical expertise to identify these products. Tourists, the main consumers of these products in many locations, are not aware that they are purchasing an illegal wildlife product. We address this threat by providing tools and resources for travelers, government agencies, tour operators, and conservationists to identify and stop the illegal trade.
- Population Impacted: We estimate we have reached more than 10 million people
- Continent: North America
Our April 2020 report The Global Tortoiseshell Trade detailed the continued trade in more than forty countries around the world. Latin America and Asia are the top regions where this market is still prevalent. Based on research conducted by individuals and conservation organizations, the report conservatively estimates more than 45,000 individual products report for sale worldwide since 2017. We also published the first report on this trade in Latin America in 2017 titled Endangered Souvenirs that identified Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama as hotspots for this trade.
While the overall trade in these products has decreased since the end of the legal international trade by CITES in the 1990’s, hawksbills have been decimated to the point of becoming critically endangered, which represents a loss of more than 80% of the species in three generations. Recent research by the Monterey Bay Aquarium suggests that as many as 9 million turtles were traded worldwide, primarily to Japan, between 1844 and 1992. This decline has a big impact on coral reefs, who rely on hawksbills to control the population of sea sponges, their favorite prey, which can take over reefs.
Despite the end of the international commercial trade, the domestic trade remains a major threat to these turtles in Latin America. The loss of natural resources such as sea turtles can have economic consequences for coastal communities that depend on wildlife assets for revenues generated by ecotourism. Reefs are essential to protecting shorelines from storms and erosion, as well as providing habitat for a multitude of organisms. Reefs also provide millions of people with food and their value to the ecosystem is estimated to be nearly US $10 trillion globally, according to the 1997 study Changes in the Global Value of Ecosystem Services. In addition, reefs are critical to the tourism industry, generating an estimated US $9.6 billion per year in recreation according to the same study.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
Our technical solution to help end this trade is to help key audiences learn how to recognize tortoiseshell products, so they can either be avoided or prevented from being sold. These audiences include travelers, domestic purchasers, online retailers, tour operators, and law enforcement officials. Each audience has a tailored solution to best obtain the outcome needed. We identified these audiences through interviews with our partners on the ground in key hotspots for this trade around the world.
For travelers, tour operators, and domestic purchasers, our work is to convince key audiences that hawksbills are “Too Rare To Wear” and help them learn how to identify them, since they can be easily confused for faux or similar-looking products. For travelers, we focus on the beauty and inherent value of these animals and let them know it is illegal to bring the products across borders. We encourage our tour operator partners to share our guides in their marketing and pre-trip materials.
Describe your behavioral intervention.
To change consumer behavior, we used a combination of emotional appeals, information, choice architecture, and rules and regulations to help consumers, law enforcement, and others to show why hawksbills are important and learn how to identify these products. We invested in outreach campaigns, educational materials, and technical solutions. We built a coalition of 150 conservation organizations and tour operators promoting this message. We created the first guide to ID these products, which has been translated into five languages and shared with 100+ tour operators, partners in eight countries, and through alliances with WWF and the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance.
We created videos and worked with media outlet The Dodo to reach over ten million people. Our app uses machine learning to identify these products with a high degree of accuracy, allowing travelers, law enforcement, and retailers to identify and avoid or confiscate these products. We also promote a Pledge To Avoid Turtleshell which more than 8,000 people have signed.
We financially support our partners to research this trade and educate their local communities, funding research by partners in nine Latin American countries, hold workshops for law enforcement in Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama that cover the importance of hawksbills, existing laws, and how to recognize the products, and conducting outreach campaigns in Colombia and Panama that reach key local audiences including retailers and domestic purchasers.
Behavioral Levers Utilized
As needed, please explain how you utilized the lever(s) in more detail.
For Choice Architecture, we offered consumers the choice to avoid these products completely, boiling the message down to a yes or no decision. We used a Pledge to Avoid Turtleshell to reinforce this behavior.
We used Emotional Appeals about how beautiful and important hawksbills are to ocean habitats. We focus on the inherent beauty of these animals and reinforce that they are more beautiful alive than on your body. Through our local partners, we supported outreach that encouraged people to take pride in protecting their natural resources for domestic consumers.
For Information, we focused on law enforcement and government officials, collaborating with partners around the world to offer workshops how to identify the products including our guides and apps.
Finally, relating to Rules and Regulations, we provide key information on relevant laws in each location through our law enforcement trainings, to sellers through local partners, and to travelers on penalties that they might face.
Describe your implementation
Our first effort was to engage the key audience of international travelers, identified as a primary consumer in the majority of hotspots by our local partners. We began our outreach to the tourism industry to find partners willing to educate their clients traveling abroad. More than 100 tour operators signed on and agreed to share this information on social media, pre-trip packets, and guide trainings. We also worked with the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance as co-chairs of the tourism committee to include our materials in their toolkit and offer trainings to members. We won the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Changemakers Award in 2019 and have worked with them to reach out to the major players in the travel industry. In addition, we worked with WWF Australia to help educate Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines with outreach materials included on ships.
We decided to take the next step of building the SEE Shell App to simplify the identification of these products for the key audiences. Our first step to building the app was to build a large dataset of images of hawksbill products and products that might be confused for hawksbill shell. We collect the images from conservation professionals from across Asia, Oceania, and North, Central and South America.
Of these, 1,409 images were labeled “real” and 3,019 were labeled as “fake.” Real item images were considered to be those containing items made from hawksbill sea turtle carapace. Fake item images were derived from a variety of mimics including resin, coconut, conch shell, cow horn, wood, and ceramics. An additional test set of 649 images was collected from the same sources but of different products. When applied to our test set, SEE Shell was able to obtain a maximum accuracy of 90.3%, and an F1 score of 0.79. More than 1,500 people in 23 countries around the world have downloaded the app to date, which includes 800+ downloads from the Apple App Store and 700+ downloads on the Google App Store.
Describe the leadership for your solution. Who is leading the implementation?
Brad Nahill: President, SEE Turtles. Brad has worked at organizations including Rare, Ocean Conservancy, and others. He won the President’s Award by the International Sea Turtle Society and has a BS from Penn State and taught ecotourism at Mount Hood Community College.
Alex Robillard: Alex has a PhD from the University of Maryland focusing on ecology and conservation of hawksbills. Alex was a Predoctoral Fellow with the Smithsonian OCIO Data Science Lab and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Alex was the lead in developing SEE Shell and is now a Data Scientist at Conservation Science Partners.
The SEE Turtles board of directors represents a diverse variety of experience including Hector Barrios-Garrido (Venezuela) and Jose Urteaga (Nicaragua), who have extensive experience working in impacted communities on this trade. Our board also has Cristina Garcia (Spain), Maureen Cunningham (a former Director at Rare from 2001-06), Dan Berman, and Sheridan Samano (US).
Share some of the key partners or stakeholders engaged in your solution development and implementation.
Too Rare To Wear works with many partners around the world to address the tortoiseshell trade. Specifically, in Latin America and the Caribbean, we primarily work with:
Fundacion Tortugas del Mar (Colombia): The Fundacion has been working to address the tortoiseshell trade since 2008, focuses on research, education, and working with law enforcement. We have partnered with them since 2016 to fund research on this trade, reach out to the tourism industry, and work with law enforcement to enforce wildlife trafficking laws. Their efforts have resulted in an estimated 80% decline in the trade in Cartagena over the past decade and have expanded their campaign to other parts of the country.
Latin American Sea Turtles (Costa Rica): LAST is a leading nonprofit working to protect sea turtles across the country and has worked on this trade for decades. LAST has worked with SEE Turtles to protect hawksbill nesting beaches, study the trade, and conduct workshops for enforcement officials. LAST participates in this project by providing product photos, field testing the app and model, and training law enforcement.
Fauna & Flora International (Nicaragua): FFI has worked to reduce the tortoiseshell trade in Nicaragua since 2008 and they are currently leading a multi-year campaign to reduce demand which SEE Turtles is supporting, including helping to create the campaign strategy and plan. FFI is helping to collect photos to add to our database and will help to field test the app and model. FFI is working to increase engagement from law enforcement, which historically has been lacking in the country.
The Leatherback Project (Panama): We funded a two week-long series of workshops and visits on the hawksbill trade in Panama with our partners from the Leatherback Project, Fundacion Tortugas del Mar, and representatives of the Panamanian Ministry of the Environment and Navy. They completed tortoiseshell surveys in six areas around Panama City, finding products in five locations.
Who adopted the desired behavior(s) and to what degree? Include an explanation of how you measured a change in behavior.
While statistics on the regional consumption of these products are not currently available, we have made major advances in educating people traveling to and living in Latin America. Some of our successes include:
- Our support of Fundacion Tortugas del Mar’s work since 2016 has helped to reduce the trade in Cartagena (the second biggest hotspot identified in our 2017 report). The Fundación estimated roughly 1,800 to 2,200 products found for sale in 2017, dropping to 200 to 400 in 2018 and 120 to 220 in 2019, an estimated 90 percent decrease in sales (most recent statistics available). The Fundacion has also recruited more than 60 shops to join their “Turtle Safe Souvenir Shops” program and is now working in the towns of Santa Marta, Tolu, and Conveñas as well.
- More than 1,500 people in 23 countries have downloaded and used our SEE Shell App.
- More than 10 million people viewed our video with The Dodo on this trade.
- 8,000+ people have signed our Pledge to Avoid Turtleshell.
How did you impact the environment (biodiversity conservation, ecosystems, etc.)? Please be specific and include measurement methodology where relevant.
While we’re not able to quantify the direct impact of our campaign on the current tortoiseshell market, we are seeing progress in bringing hawksbill turtles back from the edge of extinction. Hawksbills can take 20 or more years to reproduce, so the impact will only be seen over the long-term. We are seeing evidence of a rebound in hawksbill populations in the region that correlate with the end of the legal international trade in the 1990s.
Our efforts to protect hawksbill turtles extend beyond Too Rare To Wear to our other campaign which supports six nesting beaches in the region. In several of these beaches, we are seeing a steep increase in nesting over the past decade, two in particular in Mexico and Panama that have gone from an average of 200 – 300 nests per year to more than 1,500 nests since 2013. These numbers are increasing due to a number of protection efforts - but are encouraging for the future of the species.
How has your solution impacted equity challenges (including race, ethnicity, social class/income, indigenous communities, or others)?
This trade in many countries involves low-income coastal communities that have hawksbills nesting or in nearshore waters. Communities that hunt and sell these shells include the Garifuna in Nicaragua and Wayuu in Venezuela. These shells represent a portion of the income for these communities though it tends to be more opportunistic than full-time employment.
While we do not have the capacity to address structural issues of poverty, we work to offer alternatives to this trade. Our conservation tours bring alternative sources of income to 20 coastal communities in 11 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, generating more than US $1 million in financial support. We fund 40 nesting beaches across the region, providing more than US $700,000 to support 100+ local jobs. Our Sea Turtle Inclusivity Fund invests in growing leaders in coastal communities, providing US $10,000 in scholarships to four young leaders in Costa Rica, Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil to date.
What were some social and/or community co-benefits?
Our efforts to support communities are through managed through our other programs, including our tours, supporting nesting beaches, and investing in building local leaders. Our tours have generated more than $1 million in financial support for communities and sustain dozens of local jobs. We have helped fund more than 100 jobs in the region on nesting beaches on an annual basis. Our scholarships also helping build the careers of young Latin American leaders.
What were some sustainable development co-benefits?
There are many benefits of protecting hawksbill turtles to sustainable development. We believe the long-term impact of the Turtle Safe shops in Cartagena will be a significant one, with those businesses benefitting from the business of travelers who want to help support conservation. We created maps of the shops and shared with the 600 attendees of the recent International Sea Turtle Symposium and Fundacion Tortugas del Mar will be sharing those at tourist spots around the city.
Sustainability: Describe the economic sustainability of your solution.
Our Too Rare To Wear program relies on a combination of grants and income from our sea turtle conservation trips. SEE Shell specifically was designed to be scalable depending on funds available while keeping maintenance costs low so the app does not become obsolete if grant funds are not available. The development of the SEE Shell app was primarily grant funded with support from collaborators including WWF. The ongoing maintenance will be funded through profits from our conservation tours and funding from the tourism industry through our Sustainable Travel Sponsorships. Continued support for local outreach campaigns and training workshops will be dependent on finding new sources of funding.
Return on investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?
Since the campaign launch, we have spent roughly $300,000 in completing the research reports, creating the app, building our network, promoting the campaign, and funding local outreach efforts. The initial creation of the app cost roughly $80,000 to develop, which includes staff time, testing, developer fees, promotion, and other costs. Funding for partner outreach has been roughly $60,000. We believe the impact for this budget has been significant, successfully elevating this issue, making it a bigger priority in several locations, and raising awareness within the tourism industry. With our two major reports, an innovative app, a large network, and solid progress on the ground, the funds have been spent efficiently.
How could we successfully replicate this solution in Latin America?
We believe Too Rare To Wear can be replicated at scale across the region in collaboration with local partners, funders, and the tourism industry.
In terms of funding, we see the following need over the next three years:
- $30,000 for app upgrades and maintenance
- $60,000 for outreach campaigns in Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica
- $10,000 for updating the research on the trade
- $30,000 for outreach to travelers and the travel industry
Our partners benefitted from the training that Rare provided at the symposium, but I believe a multi-day training similar to what was done in Nicaragua in 2020 with Fauna & Flora Nicaragua and Rare would help our partners elevate their work and better address key audiences in their locations. Fundacion Tortugas del Mar’s model of reducing the trade in Cartagena we believe can be scaled up to other areas. We also need to better reach the larger players in the region’s tourism market, including major hotel chains, cruise lines, and tour operators.