Despite their protection under CITES, as well as under many national laws, there is still a large amount of trade in hawksbills products, and this probably constitutes the major threat to the species.
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.