This marine turtle is small to medium in size and has a thin elongated oval shell, a distinctive hawk-like beak, and flippers with two claws. Hawksbill Turtles are predominantly carnivorous and are known to be opportunistic predators. These turtles use their narrow beaks to expertly remove invertebrate prey from difficult-to-reach spots on the reef.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle Habitat
Hawksbill Sea Turtles can be found in tropical and subtropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Unlike other sea turtle species, Hawksbills nest in low densities on small, scattered beaches.
Nesting and Hatching
Hawksbill Sea Turtle nesting season typically runs from October to March and incubation period is around 60 days. To reach their nesting grounds, sea turtles migrate long distances every 2-4 years, traveling back to the beaches where they were born.
Anywhere between 60-200 eggs are laid at a time, taking around two months to hatch. Once hatched, the baby turtles must crawl swiftly to the water and avoid a multitude of threats in the process.
The gender of a whole clutch is determined by the temperature of the eggs during the first three weeks – female hatchlings associated with warm temperatures and male hatchlings associated with cooler temperatures. Climate change therefore poses a serious threat, as the generally warming weather conditions leads to fewer male hatchlings and an imbalance in the population.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle Diet
The Hawksbill Turtle is omnivorous. Much like a bird of prey, their narrow pointed beak is a specialised feeding tool and allows the turtle to reach into small cracks in the coral reef to extract sponges and other invertebrate.
Coral reef sponges are the Hawksbills primary source of food – a food source which is toxic to most animals due to the spicules they contain. The Hawksbill Turtle is immune and this type of feeding provides a service to other marine life by contributing to the health of coral reefs and wider marine life.
How Endangered is the Hawksbill Sea Turtle?
The Hawksbill Turtle is one of the smallest species of turtle and sadly also the most Endangered. Their beautiful gold and brown patterned shells are hunted and sold illegally on the black market – often used to create ornamental products.
In 2001 a IUCN Red List subcommitte upheld the Critically Endangered listing of the Hawksbill based on ongoing and long-term declines in excess of 80% within three generations. Hawksbill Turtles can take 20 to 40 years to mature. Data on reproductive longevity in Hawksbills are limited, but becoming available with increasing numbers of intensively monitored, long-term projects on protected beaches.
Major Threats to Hawksbill Turtles
Hawksbills face multiple, severe threats including the Tortoiseshell Trade, egg collection, slaughter for meat, destruction of nesting and foraging habitat, oil pollution, entanglement and ingestion of marine debris and fishing gear.
Other major threats to the Sea Turtles’ survival includes plastic pollution, coastal development, fishing nets and invasive species.
How can you help?
The work Wildlife ACT does on North Island in the Seychelles covers a range of conservation-orientated projects, with one of the primary focuses being monitoring the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle.
This island is a conservation hub where Critically Endangered Seychelles fauna and flora are being reintroduced and given a place to regenerate.
This ecotourism destination allows Wildlife ACT volunteers to accompany scientists focusing on Endangered Species Monitoring, Marine Conservation and Ecosystem Restoration. The project is ideal for those with a keen interest in tropical island conservation and ecology to get involved in all the activities of the Environmental Department. This includes both field work and data entry.
“Being involved in the marking and monitoring of the Green and Hawksbill populations on North Island is a truly amazing experience,” says volunteer Bas Kroon. “It’s not easy to explain what it feels like to see a turtle (on the beach or in the ocean) and help with the tagging of a turtle. One thing is for sure though – it’s something you will never ever forget!”– Volunteer, Bas Kroon
Find out more about Volunteering with Hawksbill Sea Turtles in the Seychelles HERE.