Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Eretmochelys imbricata
Population size
Life Span
30-50 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 

The Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is the only extant species in the genus Eretmochelys. The Hawksbill sea turtle has a global distribution; it lives part of its life in the open ocean but spends more time in shallow lagoons and coral reefs.


The shell or carapace, of the Hawksbill sea turtle has an amber background patterned with an irregular combination of light and dark streaks, with predominantly black and mottled-brown colors radiating to the sides. Several characteristics of the Hawksbill sea turtle distinguish it from other sea turtle species. Its elongated, tapered head ends in a beak-like mouth (from which its common name is derived), and its beak is more sharply pronounced and hooked than others. Its forelimbs have two visible claws on each flipper. One of the Hawksbill's more easily distinguished characteristics is the pattern of thick scutes that make up its carapace. Its carapace has five central scutes and four pairs of lateral scutes, posterior scutes overlap in such a way as to give the rear margin of its carapace a serrated look, similar to the edge of a saw or a steak knife. The turtle's carapace can reach almost 1 m (3 ft) in length. The Hawksbill appears to frequently employ its sturdy shell to insert its body into tight spaces in reefs.




Hawksbill sea turtles live mainly in the tropical coral reefs of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. They are usually seen resting in caves and ledges in and around these reefs throughout the day. As a highly migratory species, they inhabit a wide range of habitats, from the open ocean to lagoons and even mangrove swamps in estuaries.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle habitat map

Climate zones

Hawksbill Sea Turtle habitat map
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
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Habits and Lifestyle

Typically diurnal (except during the mating season), solitary hawksbills comb the continental shelves and reefs searching for food. They spend most of their life in the water foraging, resting, and cleaning and come ashore only for laying eggs. They mainly stay close to shorelines, where coral reefs with sponges are found, and not far from tropical beaches that are their nesting sites. Like other sea turtles, the hawksbill sea turtle makes incredible migrations when moving from feeding sites to areas where they nest.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Hawksbill sea turtles are omnivores and feed mainly on sponges. They will also eat sea invertebrates, such as sea jellies, mollusks, fish, crustaceans, marine algae, and other sea animals and plants. They like to feed in shallow shoals which have lots of brown algae.

Mating Habits

2 months
100-140 eggs
at birth

Hawksbill turtles are generally monogamous and during the season they don't tend to re-mate. The female makes the decision about who to mate with. It is believed that turtles will mate with the same turtle each season, but this has not been proven. Nesting usually takes place between July and October. At the time to lay eggs, the female makes her way to the site on the beach. This process usually happens 3 times during each mating season, within 15 days of each other. The eggs are placed in clutches of 100 to 140 at a time, then the female covers the eggs up. The hatchlings emerge in about 2 months, after taking several days to dig themselves out. They then head to the water. Hawksbills are able to mate from the age of 3 to 10 years old.


Population threats

A major threat to this animal is the illegal trade in much sought-after tortoiseshell, which has been used for centuries for jewelry and ornaments. There is also a large market for their meat and eggs, as well as stuffed young turtles as exotic gifts. They are also threatened by harvests for traditional customs, accidental tangling in fishing lines, the loss of nesting sites, and the degradation of coral reef systems, which are their feeding grounds. Climate change is a further threat. Ocean levels have risen and are predicted to rise even more in the future. This can lead to increased erosion of beaches and further degradation, which could wash nests away and decrease the nesting habitat.

Population number

According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy resource, the total population size of nesting Hawksbill sea turtles is around 20,000-23,000 individuals. Overall, currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Hawksbills help with maintaining the health of the coral reefs by removing prey such as sponges off the reef's surface, thus enabling better feeding access for reef fish.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Young Hawksbill turtles are unable to dive deep and spend their early years floating amongst sea plants near the water’s surface.
  • All turtle hatchlings head out to the open ocean straight from hatching. These early pelagic years of all turtle species are known as the ‘lost years’ as very little is known about their life history, feeding, distribution, or recruitment methods to tropical reefs.
  • The carapace (shell) of marine turtles is made from keratin, the same material as our hair and nails. This material grows over the spine and between the ribs to form a solid shell which the spine and ribs are encased in.
  • Sea turtles (like other turtles) have no teeth, but the jaw of each species is specifically designed for its food source.
  • Sea turtles hear vibration more than sound as we know it. Their eyesight underwater is good, and they have an excellent sense of smell.


1. Hawksbill Sea Turtle Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawksbill_sea_turtle
2. Hawksbill Sea Turtle on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8005/0

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