Hawksbill turtle

Eretmochelys imbricata.

Hawksbill turtle

The conservation status of the hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricate is:

  • Nature Conservation Act 1992: Vulnerable
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999: Vulnerable
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Critically endangered.

General information

One of the smaller sea turtle species, the hawksbill turtle can still weigh up to 75kg with a carapace length of 88cm. Adult hawksbills live primarily on coral reefs in tropical and subtropical oceans where they feed primarily on sponges. Young hawksbills spend the first few years of their lives at sea, often living in the large floating mats of Sargassum. In Australia, they move into feeding grounds closer to shore when they reach a length of about 38cm. Hawksbills provide critical ecosystem services on the reef by controlling sponge populations, which might otherwise outcompete some corals and algae in the reef ecosystem. An adult hawksbill will eat an estimated 544kg of sponges per year.

In the past century the hawksbill population has dropped by about ninety percent. This can be attributed to the historical trade of Bekko (Japanese name for hawksbill shell) There is estimated to be only 60,000-78,000 adult female hawksbills left in the world today. Australia has the world's largest nesting population with 6,000-8,000 on the Great Barrier Reef and a further 2,000 on the northwest coast. Bekko trade is now banned by international treaty but in many places the hawksbill is still harvested for food at various stages of its lifecycle.

Further reading

Environment Protection Agency

Spotila, James R, 2004, Sea Turtles: A complete guide to their biology, behaviour and conservation, The Johns Hopkins University Press.