The Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Common Name: The Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Type: Sea Turtle / Reptile

Family: Cheloniidae

Range: The Hawksbill turtles are available throughout the warm tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans as well as Caribbean Sea. They avoid deep waters and prefer coastlines where sponges are plentiful and the sandy nesting sites are within the reach. They can be found on the beaches of Costa Rica along with both the coasts. One species is on the Carrabin Sea and the other on the Pacific side. These are slightly different in coloration and their shells. They are also available in the national parks of Costa Rica.

Size: The Hawksbill Sea Turtle can reach to a length from 24 to 45 in (62.5 to 114 cm)

Weight: The weight of a Hawksbill Sea Turtle can vary between 100 to 150 lbs (45 to 68 kg)

Diet: They are usually available near reefs that are in the sponges and like to feed on. Hawksbills are omnivorous and will also eat mollusks, crustaceans, marine algae, fish, sea urchins, and jellyfish. The young eat both plants and prey. After maturing age, they eat only fish and sponge. Their hard shells protect them from many predators, but they still fall prey to large fish, sharks, crocodiles, octopuses, and humans. The hawksbill has a sharp, narrow “bird-like” mouth that allows them to reach prey within gaps on the reef.

Average life span: The average lifespan in the wild is 30 to 50 years (estimated)

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle are common to the coral reefs, rocky areas, shallow coastal areas, oceanic islands, lagoons and narrow creeks and passes. It is hard to see in water deeper than 65 feet. Hatchlings are normally found floating in masses of sea plants, and nesting might happen on almost any undisturbed deep-sand beach in the tropics. Adult females can climb over rocks and reefs to nest in beach plants.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle can be found on and around coral reefs sponge at the OSA Peninsula and Cahuita National Park during July –October.

Breeding/Reproduction: The Hawksbill Sea Turtle make unbelievable migrations from feeding sites to nesting grounds, normally on tropical and sub tropical beaches. Mating occurs every two to three years and normally takes place in shallow waters close to the shore. The nesting process starts when the turtles leave the sea to select an area to lay their eggs. A pit is dug in the sand, filled with eggs, and then covered. At this stage the turtles return to the sea, leaving the eggs, which will hatch in around 60 days. The sexual maturity age is estimated around 20 years in the Caribbean Sea.

The hawksbill sea turtle, scientifically named Eretmochelys imbricata, belongs to the family Cheloniidae. It is very hard to find this turtle nowadays. It is the one and only existing species in its genus. The hawksbill likes shallow coastal waters for living and is frequently found near underwater rocks and coral reefs. This is found all over the world, especially in Costa Rica, with the species of Atlantic and Pacific region.

The hawksbill is different from the sea turtles found in Costa Rica. It has usually a firmed body shape, a protective carapace with hard layer, and flipper like arms which are used for swimming in the open ocean. The hawksbill turtle can be 100 cm in length. It has also a beak like mouth that is curved and sharp that helps the turtle to protect itself from any attack and to eat. The sharp cutting edge of the beak is called tomium. This is the only turtle which has overlapping scutes or plates on its shell. The shell is almost heart-shaped or shield-shaped. Its edge becomes serrated at the rear of the body.

The hawksbill turtle also has four large scales on its head between the two eyes. Finally, this turtle has a shining brown and cream pattern on its carapace that is mostly called “tortoiseshell.”

Both of the sexes of this turtle have brown to reddish-brown scales on their layer and they are bordered with yellow color. The underside of this turtle is also yellow. The female’s plastron or underside is flat, but the male has a curvy plastron that curves inside. This helps the male turtle to hold the female in a better way when they mate. The male turtle also has a long tail that helps him to hold on. Mating season for the Atlantic hawksbills usually starts in April and lasts till November. After mating, female turtles carry their heavy bodies high onto the beach during the night. They clear an area on the beach and dig a hole with the help of their rear flippers. The females then lay eggs and cover them with sand.

The hawksbill turtle eat plants and small fishes at its young ages. But when it is matured, it eats more meat, including fish, sponges, and mollusks. It also eats jellyfish, and even the dangerously noxious Portuguese man-of-war. Hawksbill shells are the main source of tortoise shell material. They are used for decorative purposes. Even people of the coastal areas eat this turtle as their daily meal.

Toxins of the jellyfish and sponges are very dangerous. As the turtles eat them, they are also dangerous as a meal for humans, even though some people sell it as food. As long as people keep buying turtle eggs, meat, or shells, as the meal of them, the fate of these delicate animals is at a great risk.

Human fishing practice is a big threat to the hawksbill sea turtles. It threats directly to their survival. The World Conservation Union has declared the hawksbill as critically endangered. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has already forbidden the capture and trade of hawksbill sea turtles and the products derived from them.

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