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Endangered Species Profile: The Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

Updated on January 6, 2015

So, what exactly IS the Hawksbill Sea Turtle?

Their beaked mouths, and fluid way of 'soaring' through the water, has earned the Hawksbill Sea Turtle it's bird-like name. The Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a member of the Cheloniidae family, and is a species of turtle. Compared to other species of sea turtles, they are not considered to be that large. They measure in at an average of 2-3 feet in length, and weigh an average of 45-68 kg. Hawksbill Sea Turtles can be recognized based on their striking appearance. Their carapace (upper shell) are covered with scutes (thick, overlapping scales) that are generally colored amber, but are also marvelously patterned with alternating blacks, browns, and yellows. The Hawksbill Sea Turtle's carapace is serrated around the edges, and their flippers are adorned with a pair of claws. Another distinctive feature of the Hawksbill Sea Turtles, is how their heads gradually taper, till their mouths are shaped in a sharp, hooked point- just like a birds beak! (perfect for foraging for their favorite food- sponges.)The Hawksbill Sea Turtle's habitat are the tropical and sub-tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and they mainly inhabit reefs in these areas. The highest concentrations of Hawksbill Sea Turtles can be found in Australia, the Seychelles, Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and Indonesia. As they are omnivores; the Hawksbill Sea Turtles can be found munching on jellyfish, sea urchins, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, marine algae, and their favorite food; sponges. Hawksbill Sea Turtles are generally very solitary creatures, unless it is mating season. The mating season normally occurs every two- three years, and afterwards the pregnant female Hawksbill Sea Turtles will travel to the beach where she was born, to lay her eggs. They will dig large holes in the sand, to lay their eggs in- approximately 140- 200 eggs. From this point on, the eggs are left to fend for themselves. After approximately 60 days the eggs will hatch, and the tiny turtles will be faced with the giant obstacle of reaching the ocean, without being picked off by numerous predators, such as seagulls and crabs. However the lucky survivors, face the prospect of living to a grand old age of anywhere from 50 to 100 years old, however, nobody knows for certain how long these marine ancients can live for. Hawksbill Sea Turtles do not just make for a pretty sight- in fact, marine experts have found that Hawksbill Sea Turtles are imperative to preserving the health of coral reefs. They do this by eating the parasitic sponges that cover much of the coral that other fish eat-therefore playing a vital, and irreplaceable part in the reefs ecosystems.

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle as an Critically Endangered Species:

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is classified by experts as being critically endangered- only one step away from extinction. They are also believed to be the most threatened species of sea turtle. Marine specialists have concluded that over the last century, the number of wild Hawksbill Sea Turtles has declined by 80%. Although the exact number of wild Hawksbill Sea Turtles is unknown, marine specialists estimate that there are approximately only 8000 nesting female Hawksbill Sea Turtles left in the world. The decline in Hawksbill Sea Turtle's is largely due to human factors, such as extensive fishing of the Hawksbill Turtle for its shell and flesh, degradation of nesting habitats, and commercial exploitation. Also the eggs of the Hawksbill Turtle have been extensively harvested by humans for consumption, or eaten by rats. After Dr. Archie Carr published a series of documents that discussed the fragility of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle's future, the world's governments became aware of the urgent need to protect the Hawksbill Turtles before it was too late. Specific measures were put in place to protect Hawksbill Sea Turtles. Such as in 1970, the Hawksbill Sea Turtle was added to the Endangered Species Act, and in 1977 the international tortoiseshell trade was condemned and prohibited by governments worldwide. However, in some areas in the world, the Hawksbill Sea Turtles continue to be illegally hunted for their beautiful shells, and meat.


The Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle fact video.

Hawksbill Sea Turtles are often illegally hunted for their beautiful shells.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles are often illegally hunted for their beautiful shells. | Source

What threatens the survival of Hawksbill Sea Turtles:

The same human factors that had decimated so many of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle population in the past, are still considered to be the biggest threats to their survival today. Dangers such as being hunted for their stunning shells (Hawksbill Sea Turtles are the sole source of tortoiseshell) and meat are still considered to be one of the leading threats towards the survival of the Hawksbill Turtles, despite the fact that it is now illegal, and Hawksbill Turtle flesh is considered to be toxic. However there is still a thriving black market for the Hawksbill carapace, due to consumer demand for genuine tortoiseshell products. The Hawksbill Sea Turtle's carapace is used to make products such as jewelry, brushes, combs, and decorative inlay. The other main threat that threatens the survival of Hawksbill Sea Turtles is the degradation of their favored habitats; coral reefs. Human activities and climate change mean that coral reefs all around the world are eroding. These coral reefs are the homes of the sponges and fish that are major components of the Hawksbill Turtle's diet, and without food to eat, the Hawksbill Sea Turtle will inevitably starve. Other causes that harm the Hawksbill Sea Turtle's chances of survival, is the degradation of their nesting habitats. This is caused by human activity; specifically littering, beach fires, and harassment of the nesting female turtles. The eggs of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle are also regarded as a delicacy in many parts of the world, so as a result; Hawksbill Sea Turtle's eggs are extensively harvested by humans. Lastly, incidental captures of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle have also proved immensely harmful to them. Fishing practices and equipment, such as shrimp trawling, fishing hooks and gillnets are all extremely harmful for Hawksbill Sea Turtles, as they entrap the turtles, so that they cannot reach the surface to breathe, causing them to drown. Dynamite fishing is another unfair practice that stuns and harms all marine life around it, when it emits a massive explosion.

How YOU can help protect the Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

There are many ways that ordinary people can contribute towards protecting and preserving the world's Hawksbill Sea Turtle population. For starters; make sure you check whether a product that you are buying is made from genuine tortoiseshell. For if it is, not only are you encouraging the black market that massacres the Hawksbill Turtle for its carapace, but owning tortoiseshell is illegal. Another simple way to help protect Hawksbill Turtles is by cleaning up the local beaches in your region, and by keeping plastic out of the oceans. By donating your time to participate in beach cleanups, and picking up any stray garbage around your local sea body, you will be serving the dual purpose of not only protecting the Hawksbill Sea Turtle, but the entire ocean as well. Signing up for a conservation tour or a volunteer program, is a fun and educational method to help save Hawksbill Sea Turtles. On an conservation tour you will see and learn about Hawksbill Turtles, while on a volunteer program you will work on a nesting beach, to protect the Hawksbill Turtle eggs. Programs and tours are held with SEE Turtles, click on the link to learn more about them; . Lastly, you may visit petition sites like Care2 to sign petitions that relate to laws surrounding the protection of Hawksbill Sea Turtles, and you can donate to organizations that work to protect Hawksbill Sea Turtles. To donate, and learn more about these beautiful creatures, you can click on any of the links provided below.


Personal Opinion:

After reading this Hub, did you feel more aware about the Hawksbill Sea Turtle's cause?

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    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      You always here about the endangered sea turtle, but not this one specifically - well done. I learned about a new type of turtle and you, my friend are raising awareness. They are beautiful and I can't imagine killing one for it's shell - they are so much prettier swimming in the ocean. People are so cruel. We've put so many animals on the endangered list, not to mention hunted many to extinction. So sad.


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