The Hawksbill Turtle, known as Eretmochelys Imbricata, is one of the most magnificent turtles to live in our oceans. Commonly found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific, they are the only species in their Genus and are currently listed critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Anybody wanting to study them has no reason not to.
Hawksbills like to live around coral reefs, but anywhere tropical is fine for them. They are most commonly seen near: South America, northern parts of Australia and east side of Africa and China. They can also be found near the south of the USA but this is rare.
Adult Hawksbills have been known to grow up to a metre in length and weigh around 40-60 kilograms. They are usually seen resting in caves and ledges, in and around coral reefs throughout the day. The mating season for the Atlantic Turtles is April to November and for the Indian Turtles, it is September to February.
An average of 140 eggs is laid which are to hatch two months later. They nest between two to four times per season and like all other turtles, females come out of the water to breed and dig a nest in the sand to lay eggs. This happens during the night, but sightings during the day have happened, although they do try to avoid this because of predators.
When baby Hawksbill Turtles hatch, they have heart-shaped carapaces, measuring around 2.5 centimetres. Once they escape from their eggs, they are ready to head for sea to go looking for their mums. They hatch during the night to stay away from predators such as Shorebirds and Shore Crabs and can see their way by the reflection of the moon against the sea.
Hawksbill Turtles eat animals like Sea Sponges, Comb Jellyfish and any other Cnidarians. They also eat other things like algae and Sea Anemones. Some of these creatures are filled with lethal toxins so you would think they would kill the turtles — well you're wrong!: Hawksbills are immune to the toxins; this can give them the advantage of more food.
The Hawksbill’s classification is:
Kingdom — Animal
Phylum — Chordata
Class — Reptile
Order — Testudines
Family — Cheloniidae
Genus — Eretmochelys
Species — Imbricata
Beauty Comes With Nature
The Hawksbill’s appearance is similar to that of other marine turtles but there are differences. As their name suggests, the head is shaped like a beak to help it reach for food in awkward places. The carapace can be orange, brown or yellow, with black blotches; a hatchling’s would be mostly brown. The scute is elliptical in shape and the edges are serrated; a unique characteristic is that they overlap like tiles on a roof. The well adapted flippers help Hawksbills, and any other turtles, to swim; each flipper has two visible claws.
As mentioned, Hawksbills are listed as critically endangered and face threats from the destruction of their coral reef habitat, caused solely by humans. They rely on the reefs to provide food and homes, so destruction can be severe. It can be either gradually, by pollution, or catastrophically, by toxic spills.
In the past, more common problems were the selling of their shell, but this is still happening today. Their shell is known as ‘tortoiseshell’ due to the colouring and can be sold at a high price. It can also be turned into other products such as leather, oil, perfume and cosmetics. It is sold illegally in most tropical countries including some British islands; however, in the northern Caribbean, Hawksbills are harvested for their shells to be put into products like hair clips, combs, jewellery and other accessories.
Many international conservation groups have made laws to protect this wonderful species and here is the list of their names:
CITES — Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species — This means that trading Hawksbill Turtles is illegal.
IUCN — International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources — This classifies them as critically endangered.
CMS — Convention on Migratory Species
SPAW — Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife
Other conservation groups use high-tech equipment to track Hawksbill Turtles to reduce the mortality rate and to follow their tracks. They also keep them safe and to study their numbers to help the international groups in surveys.