Endangered Animal Project— Hawksbill Turtle

This week, our project is about the ideation and prototyping of endangered animals. I chose Hawksbill Turtle as my project example. The reason I had the Hawksbill turtle as my endangered animal had to do with the many media images that I saw online about sea turtles being trapped in swamps of ocean waste, environmental dispose or being injured, killed by human activities. I wanted to express my perspective on such reality through practices of sketching and designing as well as manipulations of different recycled materials during my prototyping process.

About Hawksbill Turtles:

Hawksbill turtles live in the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and diet primarily on sponges that live on coral reefs. With their unique beak-like mouths, V-shaped lower jaw features, and hawk-like appearances, they are given the name Hawksbill. Vary from small to medium in sizes, they are creatures with beautiful amber-colored (streaks of orange, red, and black), patterned shells — which make them highly valuable commodities with great economic values in markets and popular materials used in the creations of jewelries and trinkets. During different stages of their life cycles, Hawksbill turtles settle in different habitats but mostly around healthy coral reefs. Places that are good sites for sponge growth, such as rock formations and high energy shoals, are too ideal habitations for Hawksbill turtles.

As the rapid development of coastal cities and extravagant exploitation of oceanic resources, hawksbill turtles are losing their nesting habitats day by day. Coastal development can lead to the decreases of dune vegetation and coral reef communities, increases of erosion and artificial lighting, and changes of thermal profiles of beaches. In today’s world, deterioration and loss of coral reef habitats caused by human activities and global climate change are the primary threat to the foraging and surviving of Hawksbill Turtles. In addition to the above phenomena, bycatch in fishing gear and interruptions of human activities (intentional killing and wildlife trade) are also responsible for the endangerment of the species. Hawksbill turtles are wildly hunted for their eggs and shells. Also, because of the unique and beautiful patterns on their shells, Hawksbill are targeted by buyers who process their “tortoise shells” into hair clips, combs, jewelries, and trinkets.

Another tragic reality that is happening to these turtles every second is their accidental yet common take-ins of marine debris and environmental disposal (indigestible plastic pieces, balloons and deadly chemical remains). Easily mistaking floating plastic and balloons as prey like jellyfish, Hawksbill turtles face heartbreaking destinies that they either end up dying from inabilities to digest the ‘food’ in their bodies or getting entangled in, injured, and suffocated by ocean trash.

Hawksbill turtles and all turtles in general play fundamental roles in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystems as well as the health of coral reef communities and sea grass beds. In a way, they share a symbiotic relationship with their surrounding environments. Through removing and consuming sponges from the coral reefs’ surfaces, Hawksbill turtles provide reef fish with better access to feed.

Sketching & Designing Process:

I’m going to build a prototype of my endangered animal — the Hawksbill turtle. However, as I have thought about since the beginning of my design process, I am not going to create just a regular turtle model. When I was thinking about the idea of endangered animal last week, I thought about how to present my understanding of its situation through my selection and utilization of different recycled materials. I want to give my turtle multiple layers of meanings in its form as well as the way it communicates with space, life, crises, and viewers.

The very first image that appeared in my mind was a sea turtle that was trapped in a lump of plastic that were thrown into the ocean due to human activities. The body and the shell of the turtle were deformed because of the plastic straps that it ran into many years ago. Not being able to escape from the trap with its own strength, it ended up getting stuck and growing into a shape responded to the plastic straps. Unlike the normal round shell that turtles had, its shell was strictly confined and eventually developed into an unnatural ‘peanut shaped’.

The message that I want to pass on through my processes of thinking, designing, sketching, and the final stage of prototyping is my intention to provoke profound reflections among viewers through visual presentation. And by generating emotions such as guilt, shame, apology, and discomfort, I encourage viewers to think over how much of their previous acts might have contributed to the development of such reality. On top of that, I carefully collected and selected materials that could help add another layer of meaning to my project. The primary materials I am going to use in the construction of my turtle prototype are paper boards and plastic, they function as reminders to me that if we do not dispose or recycle them with right methods, they could be the causes of the deformations and deaths of many other creatures in the future too.

The color scheme in my sketching is bright and colorful. However, I have to admit that it is a romanticized look of the actual Hawksbill turtles whose lives are critically threatened by the declining ecological balance. Additionally, the colors and textures of the recycled materials that I chose will also limit my options to present a prototype that will look exactly like my final drawing. Therefore, viewers should be prepared to receive a different outcome.

Building my Prototype:

Materials I use in my project are: Paper boards, 1 Metal lid, 1 Plastic lid, 1 Wine cork, and Tapes.

The method I applied to build my turtle was layering. First, I traced each part of my turtle on paper boards that I broke down from paper boxes and cut out each part in different sizes. In this case, six layers for the turtle shell, four layers on each side for the fore flippers, four layers on each side for the hind flippers, and four layers for its tail. After assembling each part together by tape, I put them all together into the shape of a turtle. Because I did not have glue or other stabling tools at home, I continued using tapes to hold the parts together and managed to transform them into an entity. I took photos of my turtle in different angles — the front, the side, the back, the top, the bottom, and in the air — and found places that I perhaps did wrong. Although the whole model looked very much “coming together” and actualizing my original imagination, somewhere in its design seemed to be off.

Steps of building my prototype:

  1. Tracing the idea patterns on paper boards.

2. Cutting out all shapes.

3. Ready to build.

4. Different angles of my prototype.

I went back to my research and looked at the images of sea turtles online. I realized that the proportion of the flippers in my prototype was wrong — the fore flippers were too short while the hind flippers were too long. Before when I was taping each part together, I was not so confident about the performance of tapes in terms of holding the turtle together. It was not until this moment when I realized my design mistake, did I feel lucky that I chose tape as the connecting agency.

Because my model’s parts are all taped together, I have unlimited flexibility and freedom to fix my problems or try out different possibilities. I think, personally, I’m excited to continue exploring various looks on my model by moving parts around and see where my imaginations and creativity will bring me to.

5. Realized my mistakes, fixed the problem!

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