Polynesian Tattoo Symbols & Meanings – Shells

Sample showing the Polynesian symbol of sea shells and turtle shells and their variations.

In Polynesian tattoo designs, shells are very common in many designs, especially turtle shells. Turtle shell is a symbolization of turtle, which is a very important sea creature in all the cultures of Polynesian triangle. It has more meanings than other symbols. Some complex turtle designs could have quite a lot of meanings, according to its elements embedded in. Basically, turtle shells symbolize longevity, wellness, fertility and peace. For more turtle’s meanings you can wait for our next post. :-)

Other shell symbols are mainly sea shells. They often have many variations and stylizations. Seashells are a main source of works of art. Sea shells often symbolize shield, protection and intimacy. Bivalve shells symbolize couples and marriage. Compared to other Polynesian symbols, sea shells are not commonly seen in many tattoo designs.

Below are several design and photo samples of turtle shells and sea shells.


Polynesian Tattoo Design - Turtle Shell Sample

(From Tattootribes)

Polynesian tattoo photo sample 1 with turtle shells.

Polynesian tattoo photo sample 2 with turtle shells.

Polynesian Tattoo Design - Sea Shells Sample


  1. This is a nice list of a couple symbols but there are many more I would like to see added to this list as I am Interested in a quater sleeve. Can we grt an update maybe? Thanks

  2. And maybe choose a sleeve or group of tattoos on one person and identify the symbols and meanings on it?

    • I want to do that too. But I’m not that skilled yet. I only learned some basic symbols. It’s very hard to get information of those rare symbols on internet.
      Anyway, I’ll post whatever I’ve learned to share with you guys.

      • Don’t forget to quote the source of many of the images and info from this meanings series, please, that would be greatly appreciated!

        • Hi Stefano Benati,
          Thanks for your advice. I want to deal with this too. Because I batch downloaded these pictures mainly from thumblr, pinterest, google image and instagram, by far I only found a few designs’ authors and I added their name to the picture’s description, like Miguel Angel. So if any artist find that your design is on our site, please contact us and we’ll be very glad to add your name and website to the picture’s description. Or if you don’t allow us to share your works, we’ll delete it at once.

        • I found there do exist some designs from the website you left, I’ll add the site’s url to the pictures’ description. And, tattootribes.com is really cool!

          • Thanks! I’m just one from the staff, not a designer so no need to put my name. But having tattootribes.com credited for the images is appreciated indeed… glad you liked website and book!

          • I found some designs that I collected in design gallery are from this page, and I’ve added the site’s brand to the descriptions of those designs I checked. But there’re so many awesome designs on your site and I’m not sure I’ve added all. You can email me the urls of those missing ones. In the future I may add a book page to recommend some books(including yours:) ).

  3. Gibran Roque says:

    I am planning on getting a polynesian tattoo and I found one desing that is basically like an armor and its half sleeve, my question is that I wanna add names into the desing, is it disrespectful if I leave some of the desing out and add names to it?

    • I know that characters can be displayed by using Polynesian patterns, which I didn’t show on this site. So it’s not disrespectful at all, I think.

  4. I’m looking for a polythesian tattoo about from chest/shoulder to my elbow. I want it to describe transquality, peace, love, family, courage and loyalty, what would be a god design ? Need help looking for a polythesian tattoo that describes all of that.

    • You don’t need to look for a tattoo but create a unique one just for you. Contact a skilled artist and he’ll draw a unique design describing your story.

  5. ANY REFERENCES? says:


    I really like the second to last tattoo of the guy from 3 different angle.

    Anyone know where I can get a reference to it? I really like it because its not too dark or too light with enough shading for me.

    The claws on that one are sooo awesome too.

    Please please anyone can send me the reference or similar to it, I would truly greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks in advance.

  6. Just a note on the turtle shell for your description, In polynesian culture the turtle was a sacred animal as it would carry the messages of the people from their island back to their spiritual homeland of hawaiki. They are quite revered in our culture and as such really should be tattooed with caution as a design like this would most likely be taboo in some respects as your are invoking the spirits when you get a tattoo like this.