Endangered Sea Turtle Shells Disguised As Blue Plastic Seized At Miami Airport En Route To Asia

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Over 1,400 endangered sea turtle shells on the floor of a warehouse near Miami International Airport was a harsh reminder that South Florida is a major hub for the illegal wildlife trade.

US Customs and Border Protection seized the shipment of endangered Hawksbill and Green sea turtle shells at an air cargo warehouse, they were headed to Asia.

Five large boxes full of scutes — the sections of a sea turtle shell — had arrived at Miami International Airport that day on a flight coming from the Caribbean, and were scheduled to be loaded on another flight to Asia a day later, CBP said in a statement.

The shells were covered in a chalk-like blue paint, and registered in a customs manifest as “plastic recycle” in an attempt to disguise shells that are illegal to sell and export in the United States and most nations. But looking closely, the distinctive brown, orange and light beige hues of hawksbill shells were visible underneath the powdery periwinkle coating.

Supervisor Silvia Gaudio, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service washes a piece of an endangered sea turtle shell disguised as blue plastic that was seized at MIA by the U.S. Customs & Border Protection

The flexible plates of a turtle shell used in tortoiseshell products like eyeglass frames, combs, brushes, jewelry, musical instrument picks and bow parts and furniture inlay, is driving the critically endangered species to extinction, scientists say. China and other Asian countries are particularly avid buyers, using the beautiful shells in personal and decorative items, and the turtle’s oil in traditional medicine.