Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

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Hawksbill turtle picture
Family: Cheloniidae

Order: Testudinata

Status: Endangered

A small to medium sized sea turtle with an amber colored carapace containing yellow streaked markings. A unique characteristic of this sea turtle is that the carapace scutes overlap. The turtle has a hawk-like beak and a long neck. The adult may reach 87 cm in length and weigh up to 200 pounds.

Habitat and Distribution:
Hawksbill turtles are found primarily in waters less than 50 feet deep. They spend time in lagoons and bays where marine vegetation is abundant. They are also found on reef systems foraging for sponges.

Life History and Ecology:
The hawksbill is a more tropical species, very few nests have ever been recorded in Florida. The preferred nesting beach is made of very fine sand with more oceanic exposure. Nesting takes place from July to October primarily at night. The nesting frequency is based on a two to three year cycle, but an individual turtle will lay several clutches of eggs during a breeding season, usually at 14 day intervals. Each nest contains an average of 140-160 eggs which hatch in 60 days. There is little data on growth rates, but they are thought to have a slow growth rate and an advanced age at sexual maturity.

Basis of Status Classification:
Reports have shown decreased nesting densities in 38 or 65 geopolitical units and more recent estimates for the Western Atlantic indicate even lower nesting populations. Despite protective measures, trade in tortoiseshell, meat, and eggs continue unabated in many countries.

Recovery Guidelines:
The populations of hawksbill turtles can be considered for delisting if, over a period of 25 years, the following conditions are met:

  1. The adult female population is increasing, as evidenced by a statistically significant trend in the annual number of nests on at least 5 index beaches.
  2. Habitat for at least 50 % of the nesting activity is protected.
  3. Numbers of adults, subadults, and juveniles are increasing, as evidenced by a statistically significant trend on at least 5 key foraging areas.
  4. All priority one tasks have been successfully implemented (NMFS and USFWS, 1993).


  1. Protect and manage nesting habitat
    • ensure beach nourishment projects are compatible
    • prevent degradation of habitat from erosion control measures (sea walls)
    • acquire and ensure long-term protection of important nesting beaches
    • remove exotic vegetation on nesting beaches
  2. Protect marine habitat
    • prevent degradation and improve water quality of important turtle habitat
    • prevent destruction of habitat from fishing gears, vessel anchoring, oil and gas activities, dredging activities
  3. Protect and manage populations on nesting beaches
    • monitor trends in nesting activity
    • reduce effects of artificial lighting
    • eliminate poaching and harassment
  4. Protect and manage populations in the marine environment
    • determine seasonal green turtle distribution and abundance
    • monitor and reduce mortality from commercial and recreational fisheries and from dredging activities
  5. reduce impacts from entanglement and ingestion of marine debris
  6. Provide information and education to the public
    International Cooperation

Ernst, C, J Lovich and R Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press. Pp. 59-73.

Lutz, P and J Musick. The Biology of Sea Turtles. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 432 pp.

National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. Recovery Plan for US Population of Loggerhead Turtle. National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington, D.C.

Content updated Date March 4, 2005