Hawksbill Sea Turtles are probably the most beautiful of all sea turtles due to their stunning colorful shell. Many people correctly associate the Hawksbill Turtle with the tropics, clear ocean waters and coral reefs where they spend most of their time.
The characteristic sharp, bird-like beak that gave these small to medium sized sea turtles their name allows them to reach into holes and crevices of coral reefs to find sponges, their favorite food source. By consuming sponges they aid coral growth and therefore play an important role in a healthy reef community.
Hawksbills are one of the most threatened of the seven remaining sea turtles species. Due to the trade of their gorgeous shell, their numbers have declined by over 80% in the last century. Today only an estimated 20,000 to 23,000 nesting females are still around.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles are listed by the IUCN Red List as critically endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future). Even though the trade of tortoiseshell that nearly resulted in extinction of this beautiful sea turtle has been prohibited, illegal trafficking continues.
Only about 1% of turtles nesting in and around Cancun are Hawksbill Sea Turtles. In 2015 a total of only 107 Hawksbill nests with 11782 eggs were recorded.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle Facts
- Small to medium-sized
- Flattened body
- Small head with a distinctive hawk-like beak
- Elongated oval shell
- Flippers with two claws
- Colorful carapace (top shell): general coloration is brown marbled with yellow, orange or reddish-brown splashes
- Underside of the shell (called plastron) is yellowish with black spots
- Adults: length of 65 cm to 90 cm (2 to 3 ft.) with a weight depending on their size of 45 kg to 90 kg (100 lbs. to 200 lbs.)
- Hatchlings: length of 3 cm (1 inch) with a weight of around 15 g (around 0.5 ounce)
- Throughout tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans
- Hatchlings and youngsters up to 4 years live in open ocean waters
- Adults avoid deep waters. They prefer coral reefs, rocky areas, shallow coastal areas, lagoons, mangroves and oceanic islands rich in sponges
- Mainly specific sponge species, but as well algae, anemones, squid and jellyfish
- Caribbean Hawksbills are sexually mature between the ages of 10 years and 25 years
- Reproduce every 2 to 3 years
- Lay 2 to 5 clutches of eggs per season
- Mating in shallow waters close to the shore
- Females come ashore to nest (mainly their own nesting beach)
- Digging a pit in the sand and depositing 160 to 240 ping pong ball sized eggs into the nest
- Covering the nest with sand and returning to the sea
- Incubation period approx. 60 days
- After hatching baby turtles immediately head to the sea
- Nesting season in the Caribbean is from April to June; but can be as well up to October
- Natural predators of adult hawksbill turtles include sharks, estuarine crocodiles and octopuses
- Eggs and hatchlings fall victim to seabirds, crabs, dogs, iguanas, predacious fish and small marine mammals
Human induced threats include:
- Killed for hundreds of years and sometimes even today for their beautiful, brightly colored shell used for jewelry, decorative pieces and furniture
- Increased recreational and commercial use of nesting beaches
- Destruction of nesting and feeding habitat - Loss of healthy coral reef communities
- Harvest of their eggs for human consumption
- Incidental capture in fishing gear
- Hawksbills are capable of nesting faster than any other species of sea turtles and can complete the entire process in less than 45 minutes.
- Some of the sponges Hawksbill Sea Turtles consume contain toxins which accumulate in the animal’s tissues. The consumption of Hawksbill meat by humans can therefore cause serious illness
- The carapace of the hawksbill is unusual amongst the marine turtles as the scutes (the hard, bony plates that constitute the shell) are overlapping.