12 May 2017
Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata)
Hawksbill Turtles are part of the cheloniidae family and can be found in tropical and subtropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. The species is widely distributed in the Caribbean Sea and western Atlantic Ocean. In contrast to all other sea turtle species, Hawksbills nest in low densities on small, scattered beaches.
This small to medium-sized marine turtle has a thin elongated oval shell with overlapping scutes on the carapace, a relatively small head with a distinctive hawk-like beak, and flippers with two claws. Hawksbill turtles are mainly carnivorous and appear to be opportunistic predators. They use their narrow beaks to extract invertebrate prey from crevices on the reef.
Wildlife ACT’s Work with Endangered Sea Turtles
The work we do on North Island in the Seychelles covers a range of conservation orientated projects spanning both terrestrial and marine aspects, but a large focus is the monitoring the endangered Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). We are working to restore and secure the reef system and beaches for continued breeding of endangered sea turtle species.
There are difficulties in accurately assessing the global population size of Hawksbill Turtles but a recent estimate of adult nesting females of 8,000+ has been made. There are only 5 populations worldwide with more than 1,000 females nesting annually (WWF).
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas): Endangered
Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata): Critically Endangered
Hawksbills face multiple, severe threats including the Tortoiseshell Trade, egg collection, slaughter for meat, destructing of nesting and foraging habitat, oil pollution, entanglement and ingestion of marine debris and fishing gear and hybridisation of Hawksbills with other species. Green Sea Turtles on the other hand are particularly sought for their meat. In 2001 a IUCN Red List Subcommittee upheld the Critically Endangered listing of the Hawksbill based on ongoing and long-term declines in excess of 80% within three generations. Hawksbill Turtles can take 20 to 40 years to mature. Data on reproductive longevity in Hawksbills are limited, but becoming available with increasing numbers of intensively monitored, long-term projects on protected beaches.
Interesting Endangered Sea Turtle Facts
- Sea turtles have been swimming in the oceans for much longer than humans have walked the earth. They have been around for the last 100 million years!
- To reach their nesting grounds, sea turtles migrate long distances every 2-4 years, traveling back to the very same beaches where they were born
- Anywhere between 60-200 eggs are laid at a time and take 2 months to hatch. After hatching, baby turtles must crawl as fast as they can to the water and avoid a multitude of predators
- Green sea turtles are able to hold their breath for hours at a time and can hold their breath in colder water for longer
- The Hawksbill Turtle is one of the smallest species of turtle and sadly also the most endangered. Their beautiful gold and brown patterned shells are hunted and sold illegally on the black market – often used to create ornamental products
- The Hawksbill is the only sea turtle with a combination of two pairs of prefrontal scales on the head and four pairs of costal scutes on the carapace. This carapace is unusual among marine turtles as the scutes (the hard, bony plates that constitute the shell) are overlapping
- The Hawksbill Turtle is omnivorous. Much like a bird of prey, their narrow pointed beak is a specialized feeding tool and allows the turtle to reach into small cracks in the coral reef to extract sponges and other invertebrate
- Coral reef sponges are the Hawksbills primary source of food – a food source which is toxic to most animals due to the spicules they contain. The Hawksbill turtle is immune and this type of feeding provides a service to other marine life by contributing to the health of coral reefs and wider marine life.