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Eretmochelys imbricata

IUCN List: Critical Endangered

Size: 2.5 to 3 Feet in Length (0.8-1.0 meters)

Weight: 100- 200 lbs (45-90 kgs)

Diet: Omnivorous (Primarily Spongivorous – One who eats Sponges!)

Life Span: Estimated at 30-50 years

Location: Tropic and Subtropical Oceans

The name “Hawksbill” comes from the turtle’s unmistakable hooked beak that looks like a hawk’s beak.

Hawksbill’s live the warm tropics and subtropic waters. They don’t travel to far deep into the ocean depths. They hang around coast where there are a lot of sponges to feed on. Using that sharp beak, they are able to dig into holes and small areas of the reef and eat large sponges. They are also omnivores consuming crustaceans, marine algae, jelly fish and other fish.

Despite their name, they are most know for their beautiful shell.

Their carapace (top of shell) is composed of magnificent marbling in colors of rich ambers and dark browns. Distinct from other sea turtles their shell also has overlapping scutes or boney plates.

Their primary role in the ecosystem is keeping the coral reefs in check.

How do they do this?

They do this by eating the sponges. If left to grow, the sponges would take over the coral reefs. This would not leave room for other organisms and coral.

Threats (ALL Caused By Human Impact):

1. The Illegal Shell Trade

The Hawksbill’s largest threat is the Illegal Shell Trade.

“Tortoise Shell” trade can be traced back to ancient times. Ruins and tombs have uncovered tortoise shell jewelry, boxes, and trinkets with other precious artifacts.

OVER 1,000,000 sea turtles were killed in the last 100 years for markets in The Americas, Asia and Europe.Click To Tweet

Not until 1968 did the IUCN list Hawksbills as Endangered and didn’t change their status to critically endangered in 1996.

Hawksbills are currently under protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 

Unfortunately, Asia still continues sell shell products because of the high demand by consumers. Therefore, people around the world illegally hunt these protected creatures for their pockets.

2. Fishing Industry

Commercial fishing is the root cause of overfishing. Overfishing is causing a plethora of issues.

But, lets just focus on the nets here.

When it comes to the nets. The nets can unintentionally pick up many turtles. Which many die or if re-released are too injured to survive. 

But, what is called “Ghost Nets” are also a real issue.

These nets get accidentally detached from the boat. MANY lives end up getting caught in these nets and sink to the ocean floor. Trapped, the turtle and other marine life are never to be found again.

3. Habitat Loss on Land and In Sea

Beaches are being taken for development for hotels, vacation homes, or the ever growing population of people.  This leaves little room for nesting turtles.

Thus, momma sea turtles have no place to lay their eggs on land. They instinctively use the same beach for years and years. A lot of factors go into the decision of egg laying location. Theories have been made about how come they choice a certain nesting cite but no one knows for sure.

As far as in the sea, our coral reefs are in need. They are dying from population, overfishing, and coral mining. This causes a loss of food supply for the turtles.

4. Beach Light Pollution

A hatchling emerges from the shell after 2 months of incubation buried under the sand. Ideally, they make their way to the sea at night under the protection of the darkness. This helps many avoid predators who find hatchlings as easy meals.

The little 2 inch hatchling is instinctively driven to the glimmering light of the sea. (Cool right?!)

When there are other lights on the beach they are misguided and head in the WRONG direction. They get lost and may never find their way to the ocean.

Other areas of concern:

Sea Turtles are also killed illegally for their meat, die from oil pollution, and suffer from people stealing their eggs for delicacy.

OK… enough sadness. There is good news! You can help!

Ways To Help:

Hawksbill sea turtle on the beach, Thailand.

1. Don’t Eat Wild Caught Fish

The best way to NOT be part of the over fishing problem and by accidental netting deaths, is to not consume wild caught fish.

2. Don’t Buy Anything Made of Turtle Shells

Traveling around the world, it’s important to make sure that you are not buying souvenirs or trinkets made with Turtle Shells.

3. Don’t Release Balloons into the Sky

What goes up must come down. Balloons can end up in our oceans. They may be accidentally eaten by sea turtles mistaking them for jelly fish. This can cause them to cause a blockage in their stomach and that never ends in a happy ending.

4. Decrease Light Pollution

When visiting the nesting beaches, turn off lights at nighttime. Sea turtle hatchings hatch at night relay on the glimmering light of the sea to guide them to safety.

5. Clean Beaches

Anytime you travel to the beach, bring a bag to collect trash. Trash and debris can be mistaken for food by the turtles.  If we all do our part, our litter won’t end up in the bellies of wildlife.

6. Spread Awareness

Share this message so that people know about the status of these magnificent creatures and how to protect them! 

Great Organizations Helping Sea Turtles:



Resources: Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans And What We Can Do To Save Them, Ted Danson and Michael D’Orso, pg. 137