The Hawksbill turtle is well known for their beautiful shell. Their shell is referred to as ‘tortoise shell’. Their hides are cured for leather to make cowboy boots and other leather items. People make jewelry, combs, eyeglass frames, and ornaments out of their shell.
Hawksbill sea turtle facts
- Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata.
- Size: The average adult size falls between 30 to 35 inches (2.5 to 2.92 feet).
- Weight: Between 101 pounds (45 kg) and 154 pounds (70 kg).
- Habitat: These turtles avoid open waters and prefer to inhabit the coastlines, coral reefs and lagoons. They linger where sponges are abundant and nesting sites are within easy reach.
- Food: They like feeding on sponges. Their menu also consists of squids, shrimps, and anemones. Being omnivorous, they feed on fish, molluscs, jellyfish, sea urchins, crustaceans, and marine algae as well.
- Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered species, meaning, they face a high risk of extinction in the near future. The population count for nesting females ranges between 20,000 to 23,0000. Females can lay 160 eggs in a nest for 3 to 6 times in one season. Nesting intervals go from 2 to 4 years. One problem to their survival is the practice of shell harvesting, in which people hunt and kill them to harvest their shell (popularly called “tortoise shell”) for jewellery or ornamentation.
What is the Hawksbill sea turtle?
The hawksbill sea turtle is among the smaller-sized turtles. Once in a while, some spot unusually large ones that measure 45 inches long. These sea turtles can thrive in the wild for 30 to 50 years. With narrow heads and beak-shaped jaws, hawksbill sea turtles feed on sponges in the coral reef crevices. Since hawksbills eat what is toxic to other marine life, these species contribute to the maintenance of the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs.
Some interesting hawksbill sea turtle facts
- Hawksbills are marked Critically Endangered worldwide and the Eastern Pacific hawksbill could well indeed be the most endangered sea turtle in the world today.
- There are no hawksbill sea turtles in the Mediterranean.
- A hawksbill Turtle’s main food source, toxic sponges, can quickly overgrow corals and suffocate the reefs. It’s a good thing that one hawksbill sea turtle can consume more than 1,000 pounds of sponges each year.
- Because of their “toxic” diet, their flesh is harmful to people. Over time, the toxins accumulate in the hawksbill’s skin. Humans should not entertain the thought of trying their meat at all. That could lead to serious illness.
- You can find the largest Hawksbill colony in Australia. It’s on Milman Island, Queensland.
- In time past, hawksbill shells were on high demand in Japan. Referred to as “bekko”, the shells were used for traditional wedding dresses.
Where do hawksbill sea turtles live?
The species usually live in tropical regions in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. Some are also visible in sub-tropical regions. The largest populations are reported to be in the Caribbean Sea, Indonesia, Australia, as well as Mexico and Indonesia. As for US sightings, you can spot a few nests in Florida. Few hawksbill sea turtles roam US waters.
These sea turtles have narrow heads and sharp beaks that resemble those of a bird’s beak, hence, the name “hawksbill”. This anatomic structure grants them their own special feeding tool, enabling them to reach deep into cracks or crevices in the coral reefs to snatch up other invertebrates and sponges for a quick meal. They have very colourful shells that’s why many regard them as the most beautiful among sea turtles.
Young ones have heart-shaped upper shells. As they mature, the shell elongates. Each of the flippers features a pair of claws with the males presenting with longer claws and thicker tails. The colour patterns are also brighter compared with female hawksbill sea turtles.
Hawksbill sea turtles tread tropical waters worldwide. Besides the open ocean, you’ll find the adult ones mostly in rocky areas and tropical coral reefs, mangroves, and lagoons. They linger in shallow coastal sites. Some researchers believe there are only just about 5 populations in the world. You can see some resting places in caves and swamps. The young often linger at sea until maturity.
As is common with most sea turtles, hawksbills have no problem going through incredible migrations throughout their life. They can travel great lengths, transferring from feeding sites to their home nesting grounds. And usually, that’s on tropical beaches. They normally mate every two years (sometimes, three).
The eyesight of hawksbill sea turtles has adapted well to both land and sea vision. Some scientists also believe that turtles, in general, are able to perceive differences between light over sea and light over the land. It is underwater that their eyesight is most adapted to.
The shells are hard but have thin nerves across that capture the slightest touch. The sense of smell is well developed and allows females to swim back to their home beach nesting ground.
What do hawksbill sea turtles eat?
Because of their bird-like beaks, the hawksbills find it easy to scavenge food, particularly sponges, from the crevices and cracks of coral reefs. If an opportunity comes, they won’t think twice about having shrimps, squids, and even jellyfish.
Hawksbill sea turtles move and glide in the same way that’s descriptive of the species. On land, turtles are known to walk slow. That being said, nesting hawksbill sea turtles can lift up on their flippers and walk fast like alligators. Swimming in water is another story. They look and move so naturally. They are good swimmers that get around smoothly in the water.
Hawksbills are solitary nesters. Nests may be seen on small and scattered beaches. When it’s time to lay eggs, these sea turtles leave the sea for the sandy beach; the perfect nesting spot. There they find a spot to dig a hole in. After laying eggs in the hole, they carefully conceal the nest and leave them behind. Eggs stay buried for 2 months till they hatch.
A clutch is what we call the egg nest of a turtle. Hawksbills nest about four times each season. Some nest every two weeks. A nest averages 140 eggs but it is no surprise to chance upon a 200-egg hawksbill nest.
What are the predators they face?
Hawksbill sea turtles have tough shells to protect them from predators. However, some do fall prey to predators like crocodiles, sharks, octopus, and of course, to humans and their harmful practices.
Why are hawksbill sea turtles endangered?
Hawksbill hunters reduced the population by over 80%. In the past (and before the ban), tortoiseshell trade was a practice. Reports say that Japan was a top importer, having imported an estimate of two million turtles between the period of 1950 to 1992. Today, this type of trading is illegal and efforts are being made to crack down the black market on tortoiseshell trading.
Other reasons for the endangerment of hawksbill sea turtles are environmental pollution, destruction of feeding and nesting grounds due to activities like coastal developments, dynamite fishing, and more. Fishing practices that use large nets and explosives also tend to harm hawksbills and the coral reefs they rely on for food sources.