Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Hawksbill

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was pre-oil leak). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Hawksbill:

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)

  • listed by US as a critically endangered species since 1970
  • average adult size is 2 1/2 feet and 95 to 165 pounds
  • adults feed mostly on sponges and other invertebrates
  • can live to be roughly 50 years old
  • named for unique hooked beak
  • females nest April through November, and typically not in groups
  • females can nest faster than any other sea turtles – can complete the entire process in less than 45 minutes
  • primary nesting areas in the US are in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Florida’s SE coast and the Keys
  • global populations have declined 80% or more in past century

The Hawksbill sea turtle’s dramatic population decline is due to a variety of causes – habitat degradation, artificial lighting along beaches, marine pollution and debris, incidental take by commercial fishing operations, egg collection and hunting of adults for meat.

Another significant factor in the Hawksbills’ decline is trade in their lovely carapaces – primarily for “tortoiseshell” jewelry.

Legal trade in Hawksbill shell trade ended when Japan agreed to stop importing shell in 1993, but a significant illegal trade continues. Trade in Hawksbills and products made from them is prohibited by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Photo credits: Top photo courtesy Thomas Doeppner; bottom photo by Caroline Rogers, USGS

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