Critically Endangered

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Eretmochelys imbricate

50 years or less
Tropical and subtropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean
Shallow depths (less than 65 feet), rocky habitats and coral reefs
Sponges! Hawksbill sea turtles also eat jellyfish, algae, urchins and small crustaceans

In this article

    In this article

      You can tell hawksbill sea turtles apart from other sea turtle species by their pointed, bird-like beak—it’s how they got their name! Hawksbill sea turtles are a medium-sized turtle and can reach up to three feet long and weigh 300 pounds. On average, though, hawksbill sea turtles weigh less than 200 pounds and only reach about 2.5 feet.

      Hawksbill sea turtles are known for their spectacularly-colored shells—their rich brown plates splashed with yellow, orange and black streaks are the classic “tortoiseshell” pattern. Humans love their shells, leading to serious overexploitation of the hawksbill sea turtles population. For many years, humans hunted hawksbill sea turtles for their shells to make jewelry, combs and more, causing their population to drop to the point that they are now critically endangered. And although legal trade for their shells finally ended in 1993, there is still a rampant illegal trade, especially in east Asia. To top it off, hawksbill sea turtles are also at risk due to accidental entanglement in fishing gear and habitat loss. Serious work needs to be done to make sure their populations are protected for generations to come!

      Hawksbill sea turtles eat mainly one thing—sponges! They use their sharp beak to pull out sponges from tight spaces. Because of this, they accumulate toxic compounds produced by the sponge in their body. It doesn’t bother them, but it would make you sick if you ate a hawksbill sea turtle (which, why would you do that anyway!?).

      Every two to three years, hawksbill sea turtles will migrate back to their natal beach, or the beach where they were born, to lay eggs. Unlike other turtles (like the olive ridley), the hawksbill sea turtle prefers to nest on their own rather than in large groups of other turtles. Hawksbill sea turtles will lay up to six nests, one every two-weeks, sometime between April and November. Each nest has about 140 eggs, which will hatch after about two months. Then, the tiny turtles will dart to the ocean while trying to avoid predators like sea birds.

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