The Hawksbill Sea Turtle Is An Endangered Species

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is an endangered species. Find all about these beautiful creatures and what is happening to cause their decline. Get a FREE EBOOK when you subscribe to my email list.

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is Known for its Beautiful Shell

  • Hawksbills have mottled (spotted) shells that are orange, reddish, black, and brown with serrated (saw-like) edges with overlapping scutes (a thickened horny or bony plate (shell) like you might see on the back of a crocodile or stegosaurus).
  • The name, Hawksbill, comes from the fact that the head comes to a point, and its jaw is v-shaped. This gives them the appearance of a hawk. The shape of their mouth makes it easy for them to get into the small cracks and crevices of coral reefs.
  • The Hawksbill has four scales ( 2 pairs) between its eyes and four scutes along the edge of each side of its carapace (the hard upper shell of a turtle) something regarded as a protective or defensive covering.
  • They grow to approximately 2 -3 feet long – and adults can weigh up to 100 – 150 lbs

The image below shows the characteristics of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Where can Hawksbill Sea Turtles Be Found?

  • The Hawksbill Sea Turtle makes its home in warm tropical and subtropical ocean waters. Their habitat varies during different stages of their life cycle, but they like to be in nearshore foraging grounds where there are coral reef habitats.
  • In the Pacific Ocean, they can be found in large numbers in mangrove estuaries.
    • An estuarine habitat occurs where salty water from the ocean mixes with fresh water from the land. Generally, these waters are partially enclosed or cut off from the ocean and may consist of channels, sloughs, mud, and sand flats. The mouths of rivers, lagoons, and bays are often estuarine habitats.
  • Areas of good sponge growth and the caves and ledges of healthy coral reefs are preferred by the Hawksbills.
  • For about 1 – 5 years after they leave their nesting area most of the hatchlings drift in flotsam and jetsam.
    • Flotsam is debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard. This is usually a result of a shipwreck or accident.
    • Jetsam is debris that is deliberately thrown overboard by a crew of a ship in distress, most often to lighten the ship’s load.
  • Juvenile sea turtles will eventually leave for shallow feeding grounds along the coast where they will spend the rest of their lives.

Areas of Population

Hawkbills are found near shore in all the world’s largest oceans. Their habitats span many countries so it’s imperative for governments and environmental groups to work together to protect the species and help them proliferate.
  • Largest Pacific Ocean Population: The Solomon Islands, the NW coast of Australia, and in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef (6,000 to 8,000 nests each year).
  • Next Largest: Indonesia (2,000 nests each year) and the Republic of Seychelles (1,000 nests each year).
  • Largest Atlantic Ocean Population: Mexico, Cuba, Barbados, Puerto Rico (500 to 1,000 nests each year), and the U.S. Virgin Islands (100 to 150 nests each year).
  • Smallest Population: the United States primarily in Hawaii along the Southern Coast of Molokai Island. Only approximately 10 – 25 Hawksbills nest there each year.

How Long They Live

  • The Hawksbill Sea Turtle reaches adulthood somewhere between 25 and 30 years of age.
  • Scientists are not exactly sure how long they live but it is estimated to be between 50 and 60 years of age. A lot depends on their habit and resources.

How Big They Get

  • Hatchlings are very small, only about 2 inches – 3 inches long.
  • Adult turtles are about 2 feet to 3 feet long and can weigh about 100 – 150 pounds.
Hawksbill Hatchling


  • The female Hawksbills return to the beaches in the general area where they hatched many years before.
  • They return every 1 to 5 years and can lay from three to five nests in each season.
  • The season is from April to November.
  • Usually, they prefer to make nests on small or isolated pocket beaches where there is a rocky approach and very little sand.
  • For safety, they like to nest high up on the beach where they will nest under or even in areas of vegetation.
  • Amazingly, each nest can contain up to 160 eggs.


After the eggs are buried in the warm sand for about two months, they hatch. The hatchlings move away from their nests and move towards the brightest light (most often on isolated beaches this would be towards the ocean).

What They Eat

They love sea sponges but they will also eat plants, algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, small fish, and jellyfish.

Why Are Hawksbill Sea Turtles – An Endangered Species?

  • Natural predators like large fish, sharks, octopuses, and crocodiles prey on Hawksbills turtles. Tiger sharks in particular are known for eating them.
  • Eggs and hatchlings are more apt to be eaten by large fish, feral dogs, rats, mongooses, raccoons, feral pigs, ghost crabs, and seabirds.
  • The selling of the beautiful tortoise shells Hawksbills are known for and that are used in the crafts trade to make jewelry and other trinkets has led to almost extinction. Even though the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) forbids the trade of any turtle products on the international market including Hawksbill tortoise shells, poaching for their beautiful shells and for their meat is still a major threat.
  • Fishing nets and gear can cause the turtles to drown. Turtles often swallow hooks or get entangled in the nets which causes injury or death. The big culprits are fisheries that operate in coastal habitats.
  • Hawksbill sea turtles must come to the surface for air and risk being struck by different types of watercraft when they are near or at the surface. Recreation, coastal development, near ports and waterways, and developed coastlines especially add to these occurrences.
  • Pollution of our waterways by humans seriously injures or kills the Hawksbill. Debris like fishing lines, balloons, plastic bags, floating tar or oil, and other materials discarded by humans that the turtles mistake for food, as well as discarded fishing gear, are often responsible for the injuries and deaths.
  • A warming climate can affect habitats, sex ratios, nesting success, and hatchling survival.

Organizations Helping Hawksbill Sea Turtles – An Endangered Species

  • Through conservation efforts, public awareness, beachfront lighting reductions, fence repairs, dune restoration, beach cleanups, radio and satellite telemetry, coordination of monitoring for nesting turtles, genetic foraging studies, and determining in-water distribution and abundance these organizations are helping to save hawksbills and their nesting habitats.

What You Can Do To Help Hawksbill Sea Turtles – An Endangered Species

  • Don’t litter beaches or estuaries.
  • Don’t discard old fishing lines or gear in the ocean or river waters.
  • If you find a turtle nest:
    • Don’t disturb it.
    • Don’t try to dig around their nest to look for eggs.
    • If it isn’t roped off report it to the nearest animal wildlife rescue so they can keep an eye on it and protect it.
  • Help keep the beaches clean by volunteering for beach cleanups. You can even do your own cleanup when visiting the beach. Plastic bags, bottles, bottle caps, and plastic rings that hold six-pack cans in place are especially dangerous.
  • Contact the nearest animal wildlife rescue or turtle hospital and ask if they need volunteers.



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