Shell Alert Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t see your question answered here, please feel free to contact us here.

Q. Why do I need to know if a product is tortoiseshell?

A. Tortoiseshell is made from the shell of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) which has declined dramatically over the past 200 years due to this trade. By using Shell Alert, you will be able to avoid purchasing these products, which are illegal to cross international borders with and help us research this trade and learn where the products are being sold. Learn more about the turtleshell trade here.


Q. If the result comes back as real tortoiseshell, what do I do?

A. We recommend moving on and purchasing your souvenirs from a shop that does not sell these products. We do not recommend confronting the seller or alerting local law enforcement, which can put you into a confrontational situation.


Q. What happens to my photo?

A. Your photo will be compared to our database of real and fake or similar-looking products and you will be alerted if the product is real tortoiseshell. The photo will be stored on our database and will help us make the model more accurate.


Q. How accurate is Shell Alert?

A. Shell Alert is at least 90% accurate on its predictions on whether a product is real or not real. The app uses an artificial intelligence model that compares the photo to our database, which determines what the product is by comparing different elements of the product. You will see the percentage of likelihood of your photo when you upload it to the app.


Q. Is my photo georeferenced?

A. Yes, we are storing longitude and latitude of each photo submitted in our database. In the future, we may use this information to identify hotspots for this trade but currently we are not using that information for enforcement.


Q. Do I take a photo of each item I see or if one enough?

A. That is up to you. If you see multiple different products that you are not sure about, you can take photos of the different products to determine each kind.


Q. How do I send more data associated with my photo? (i.e how many I saw for sale, where I was located)?

A. When you submit your photo, there will be a box to add additional information. In addition, once the photo is submitted, you can click on the “Send More Info” link to be sent to a form to send additional information. You can also contact us through the SEE Turtles website at this link.


Q. Will my photo get someone in trouble?

A. Your photo may be used to determine general areas where these products are being sold but not the specific store or table. Your photo will also not be used as evidence against someone selling these products.

In some cases, we may alert local partners in that location who may work with local law enforcement to enforce local laws. In general, if a seller is caught selling illegal products, the result is confiscation or a fine; incarceration is very rare and would only happen with repeated violations in some places.

Q. What else can I do to help save hawksbill sea turtles?

A. Lots! Here are a few ways you can help: