Introducing ShellBank

A game-changer to trace, track and dismantle the illegal turtle trade.

As a global multi-partner initiative, Collaboration is key to its success

Created in 2018, we first showcased DNA shell extraction data and results in 2019, then successfully piloted a project that found DNA matches from seized products with reference databases. Together with institutions, organizations and individuals from across the globe involved in building ShellBank’s database and its supporting tools, we are now ready to move from pilot to global practice.

In a nutshell, how does shellbank work?

ShellBank has shown that, with complete Rookery and In-Water databases, we can get an understanding of connected nesting populations, marine stock boundaries and which populations have been impacted by poaching. By comparing across databases it will be possible to accurately trace the population origin, enhance a country’s enforcement efforts against illegal traders, and advance marine turtle conservation at national and regional levels.

Below is an example to illustrate how we can connect across transboundary genetic databases to find a match.

Containing genetic information from samples collected from wild nesting turtles, hatchlings or embryos / eggs used to assign genetic stock (nesting) origin.

Containing genetic information from samples collected in-water from wild turtles, including all size classes. These may include foraging, stranded, or bycatch animals (both alive and dead) used to assign genetic stock population boundaries.

Containing genetic information from samples collected from  confiscated marine turtles and marine turtle parts or products. These samples may be taken from live animals, meat, eggs, whole stuffed animals or shells, or tortoiseshell products (i.e. raw scutes or highly processed items such as jewellery) to record which genetic stock was traded at what entry point. This database will also initially help us to detect if any orphan (unknown genetic stocks) have been identified in the reference database.

Confiscation Database

Rookery Baseline Database

In Water Database

Likely poached location 

Share the Word

Download the brochure below to share and let others learn more about Shellbank too!

WWF Philippines

Help build ShellBank

For ShellBank to work, the database needs to grow. While the amount of data in the Asia-Pacific region has tripled since its establishment, more support is needed to realise its full potential as we expand globally and to include hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles.

Meet The Partners

Initiated by WWF, ShellBank is a multi-partner initiative with involvement from collaborators across multiple sectors. Key partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Australian Museum Research Institute and the TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network. They play a key role in collecting and analysing genetic samples in the database, among other areas of support.