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Scientific name: Eretmochelys imbricata
Pacific Island names: ` ea (Hawaiian), haagan karai (Chamorran), laumei uga (Samoan)
Stock Assessment / Estimated Breeding Population
Hawksbills can be found in tropical and sub-tropical regions throughout the world. In Hawaii, a few females nest each year on Maui and Molokai but the majority of hawksbill nesting in the Hawaiian Islands takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii. Since 1991, a total of 72 nesting females have been tagged on beaches including Kamehame, Pohue, Punalu'u, Apua Point, Keauhou, Halape, Horseshoe, Koloa, Ninole, Kawa, Kahakahakea, Awili Point, and Waimanu. Through satellite tracking, the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii has been identified as an important foraging ground for Hawaiian hawksbills. This species can be found nesting and foraging in other Pacific U.S. territories but research on the population status and trends in these areas is on-going.
- Endangered Species Act (ESA)
- Hawaii state law
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). This policy restricts international trade in endangered species and their products. CITES has greatly reduced the market for tortoiseshell products and presently fewer turtles are being killed for their shells.
Hawksbills were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on July 28, 1978. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) also listed hawksbills as endangered in 1968 and elevated their status to critically endangered in 1996. Historically, hawksbills have been hunted for their richly patterned shells which were made into a variety of products including tortoiseshell jewelry, brushes, combs, and inlays in fine furniture. This is thought to be the main reason that populations have declined so drastically in the last several decades.
Much like green turtles, the hawksbill turtle and its eggs have historically been relied upon in the Pacific Islands region as a source of nutrition. The shell of the hawksbill has been described as "the world's first plastic" and has served a multitude of purposes, both ornamental and practical. Bones were used to make tools and other turtle parts were used as medicines. Turtles have also traditionally been the focus of important ceremonial or religious practices.
- Average adult weighs 100-150 lbs and can weigh anywhere from 60 to 200 lbs.
- Carapace (shell) length can range from 25-35 inches.
- Hooked 'beak' resembling that of a hawk, hence their name.
- Five vertebral scutes (large scales) that run down the middle of the carapace and four costal scutes that run along each side. Green turtles have the same scute configuration but hawksbills, unlike greens, have overlapping scutes (like roof shingles) and a serrated posterior edge of the carapace.
- Two claws on each flipper and shells are the characteristic 'tortoiseshell' color, ranging from golden to dark brown with red, black, and orange streaks.
Hawksbills feed around coral reefs and rock outcroppings and primarily consume sponges. Their unique hooked beak is well adapted for probing into holes and crevices to find prey. Hawksbills play an important role in the health of coral reef systems by keeping certain types of sponges from taking over space and resources from corals and other organisms. The drastic decline of hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean is hypothesized to be a factor in the poor health of coral reefs in the region.
It is estimated that hawksbills become sexually mature between 20 and 25 years of age and will then nest every 2 to 3 years.
They can lay as many as 3 to 5 clutches (nests) in one nesting season with about 16 days in between each nesting event.
On average, a hawksbill nest will contain anywhere from 130 to 180 eggs. The eggs will incubate in the sand for around 62 days before the hatchlings dig their way up to the surface and make their journey down to the sea.
- Hawksbills can be found in tropical and sub-tropical regions throughout the world.
- In Hawaii, a few females nest each year on Maui and Molokai but the majority of hawksbill nesting in the Hawaiian Islands takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii. Since 1991, a total of 72 nesting females have been tagged on beaches including Kamehame, Pohue, Punalu'u, Apua Point, Keauhou, Halape, Horseshoe, Koloa, Ninole, Kawa, Kahakahakea, Awili Point, and Waimanu. Through satellite tracking, the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii has been identified as an important foraging ground for Hawaiian hawksbills.
- This species can be found nesting and foraging in other Pacific US territories but research on the population status and trends in these areas is on-going.
- The relatively small number of hawksbills that reside in Hawaiian waters are primarily threatened by loss of habitat caused by increased human presence and beach erosion. Coastal construction, artificial lighting, and nest predation by introduced species all threaten hawksbill nesting beaches.
- Tourism development can also have detrimental effects on the coral reef feeding habitats of hawksbill turtles in the main Hawaiian Islands and throughout the rest of this rapidly developing region.
- Direct harvest of adult turtles is still a threat to hawksbill populations in the some of Pacific islands region. Adult turtles are more often taken for their shells in order to produce jewelry for traditional purposes and to sell to tourists and less often for consumption.
Current Management Issues
- The Protected Resources Division has the responsibility to implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The division is tasked with the recovery of all ESA listed species, including all five species of sea turtle that occur in the region. This includes writing and implementing species recovery plans and permitting/authorizations for important fishery interactions issues.
- Public outreach and education
- Partner with state and local governments and other entities to successfully manage endangered species and provide funding for research and conservation.
Important Phone Numbers
If you encounter an entangled or stranded sea turtle, please call: (808) 725-5730 or view Marine Turtle Stranding Contact Information for more numbers
- Hawaiian Hawksbill Sea Turtle brochure (June 2016, pdf 4MB)
- Recovery Plan for the U.S. Pacific Populations of the Hawksbill Turtle (Jan 1998, pdf 455kB)
- NOAA Fisheries - Office of Protected Resources - Hawksbill
- Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)