Hawksbill turtle; Tortue caret, Tortue imbriquée, Tortue à bec faucon, Tortue à écailles (Fr); Tortuga carey (Sp)
Approx. 8,000 nesting females
IUCN: Critically Endangered A2bd CITES: Appendix I CMS listing: Appendix I and II
A disturbingly large amount of trade in hawksbills continues
Hawksbills declined globally by over 80% during the last century.
There are difficulties in accurately assessing population size, 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. There is evidence that a nesting colony on Milman Island in Queensland, Australia is the largest hawksbill population in the world.
The shell is thin, flexible and highly coloured with elaborate patterns. The carapace of the hawksbill is unusual amongst the marine turtles as the scutes (the hard, bony plates that constitute the shell) are overlapping. These are often streaked and marbled with amber, yellow or brown, most evident when the shell material is worked and polished. As the English name suggests, the hawksbill has a narrow pointed beak reminiscent of a bird of prey.
In the past, the hawksbill was thought be less migratory than the other species of marine turtles. However, more recent work involving satellite telemetry has revealed that the species does make long distance migrations.
Usually less than 1m in length, weighing 40-60kg.
The scutes are often streaked and marbled with amber, yellow or brown.
Nesting occurs widely throughout the range, but tends to be more dispersed than in other species. There are seldom more than a few hundred nests on a single beach, and few major colonial nesting beaches. It has been suggested that this is simply a result of centuries of over-exploitation.
The hawksbill appears to nest every 2 to 3 years and lays 60 to 200 eggs at a time. The hawksbill often nests close to coral reefs, and can be encountered by snorkellers and scuba-divers at localities where turtle habitat is in good condition.
Hawksbill turtles are mainly carnivorous and use their narrow beaks to extract invertebrate prey from crevices on the reef. Both sessile and mobile animals are eaten and hawksbills appear to be opportunistic predators, although sponges normally constitute a major proportion of their diet.
Habitat and ecology
Benguela Current, Humboldt Current, Agulhas Current, Gulf of California, Galápagos Marine, Canary Current, Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, Bismarck-Solomon Seas, Banda-Flores Sea, Palau Marine, Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, East African Marine, West Madagascar Marine, Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef, Greater Antillean Marine, Southern Caribbean Sea, Northeast Brazil Shelf Marine.
SWOT map of nesting beaches
What are the main threats?
- Habitat loss and degradation
- Wildlife trade
- Collection of eggs and meat for consumption
- Incidental capture (bycatch)
- Climate change
Juvenile hawksbills, and other marine turtles, are often collected and stuffed for sale as tourist curios. Although many countries have banned this trade, it still occurs. Stuffed hawksbills were openly on sale at Hanoi's international airport in 1998. Harvest for domestic trade still occurs in many countries of the Caribbean, South-East Asia and Polynesia.
Why is this species important?
Hawksbill turtles also feed on invertebrates, with a predilection for sponges. When they dislodge pieces from the surface of the coral, this provides access for reef fish to feed.
What is WWF doing?
- Action to address the impacts of climate change
- Monitoring the migration patterns of marine turtles
- Improving and supporting trade controls
- Protecting nesting sites
- Reducing bycatch and promoting smart fishing
Examples specifically linked to the conservation of hawksbill turtles include:
- NEWS: Volunteers support hawksbill turtle conservation in Melaka, Malaysia
- NEWS: Hawksbill management and enforcement efforts needed urgently
How you can help
- Send a turtle to rehab! Help the recuperation process for thousands of sick and injured turtles.
- Check what that souvenir is made from! Don't buy products which have been made from sea turtle parts. Guitars, ashtrays, jewellry and other products made from sea turtles are sold to tourists around the world.