The Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. The species is distributed throughout all of the world’s seas, but the Atlantic and pacific populations are divided into two subspecies. E. I. imbricata is the Atlantic subspecies and E. I. bissa is the Pacific subspecies.
The Hawksbill is predominantly known as a tropical sea turtle found in the tropical seas of the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. However, they have been seen as far north as Massachusetts and the Long Island Sound and in the frigid northern waters of the English Channel in the Atlantic. It is also found all around the coasts of Africa and South America. It is distributed throughout coastal Asia, Indonesia and northern Australia and New Zealand. It is also found widely along the southern U.S. coastline and Mexico.
While this turtle lives part of its life in the open ocean waters, it is a commonly seen in shallow lagoons and coral reefs where it feeds on its chosen prey, sea sponges. Sea sponges have been known to be highly toxic and deadly to other sea life that tries to eat it. The Hawksbill also consumes other invertebrates, such as comb jellies and jellyfish.
It is similar in appearance to other marine turtles. It has a flattened body shape, protective shell, and its flipper-like arms are adapted for swimming in the open ocean. The Hawksbill is easily distinguished from other sea turtles by its sharp, curving beak and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins. Because of their tough carapaces, hawksbill turtles have no major predators as there are few creatures that are capable of biting through their protective shell. Sharks and estuarine crocodiles are a few of their natural predators. Octopuses and some species of pelagic fish have also been known to prey on the adult turtles.
Hawksbill Turtles are known to mate biyearly in seclude lagoons in remote islands throughout their range. The Atlantic mating season is usually from April to November. Other populations mate from September to February. Hawksbills mate in shallow lagoons off the shores of their prospective nesting beaches. After mating the females drag their heavy bodies high onto the beach at night and dig a hole using their rear flippers. The female lays a clutch of as many as 140 eggs which takes several hours. The female then returns to the sea. This is the only time when hawksbills are known to leave the ocean.
About two months after being laid, the eggs hatch during the night and small, 1 inch long baby turtles emerge into the world and instinctually head for the sea, attracted by the reflection of the moon on the water. This mechanism can be disrupted by other light sources, such as street lamps and other lights. Turtles that do not reach the ocean by daybreak are preyed upon by shorebirds and other shore life, such as crabs.
Although not much is known about adolescent hawksbill turtles, it is believed that they reach maturity at thirty years. Hawksbill turtles are believed to live from thirty to fifty years in the wild. They are a solitary turtle, only grouping during mating season and they are also highly migratory.