Protected Resources

Hawksbill

Rachel O'Shea ©SPC

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.

Legal Protection

Natural History

Photo Credit: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

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.

Physical Description

Diet

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.

Lifespan

Unknown

Reproduction

Hawksbill hatchling

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.

Distribution

Potential Threats

Current Management Issues

Viewing Guidelines

  • Obey any signs that may be posted identifying areas as hawksbill nesting beaches.
  • If you see Hawksbill turtles in the water while snorkeling or diving, enjoy them from a reasonable distance to not disturb their natural behavior.
  • If you live near a hawksbill nesting beach, turn your lights off at night so nesting females and hatchlings are not disoriented by them.

Volunteer Opportunities

Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Important Phone Numbers

If you encounter an entangled or stranded sea turtle, please call: (808) 983-5730 or view Marine Turtle Stranding Contact Information for more numbers

More Information