HAWKSBILL TURTLES: WONDERFUL… & CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
Hawksbill turtles are found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They avoid deep waters, preferring coastlines where sponges are abundant and sandy nesting sites are within reach. They are normally found near reefs rich in the sponges they like to feed on. Hawksbills are omnivorous and will also eat molluscs, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish, and jellyfish.
Hawksbill Turtle Range (Nat Geo)
WHY ARE HAWKSBILLS CRITICALLY ENDANGERED?
- Despite the protection of their shells, turtles are predated on by large fish, sharks, octopuses, and (unlawfully) humans.
- Hawksbills are slow breeders, mating only every 2 or 3 years, which is the first drawback to species survival.
- Having laid the resulting eggs on a beach, the female returns to the sea. The eggs hatch after a couple of months. Unless, of course, some creature – and that includes humans – has got to them first…
- Hatchlings are hugely vulnerable as they make their way from the nest site to the sea. However fast they scurry along, crabs and in particular flocks of gulls are faster. Also, they may have to negotiate impossible obstacles washed up onto the beach (see below). The attrition rate of tiny turtles at this stage is very considerable.
SO, HUMANS ARE BASICALLY IN THE CLEAR, RIGHT?
Humans can take most of the credit for the turtles plight leading to their IUCN ‘critically endangered’ listing, in these mostly illegal ways:
- Killing adult turtles for food or…
- …for their beautiful shells
- Digging up turtle nesting sites to take the eggs as food
- Catching turtles in fishing nets as unintended but often inevitable BYCATCH
- Providing a rich stew of plastic, styrofoam & other dietary or physical hazards in the ocean
- Degrading or destroying the nesting sites, & indeed the reefs on which turtles depend
A hatchling tries to clamber over beach rubbish to get to the sea
A straw is extracted from a turtle’s nostril (small pics on purpose – I spared you the long video)
This poor creature was found just in time
Assorted plastic effects (the turtle trapped in the beach chair was off Man-o-War Cay)
PLEASE CAN WE GO BACK TO HAPPY PICTURES?
Healthy hawksbills happily living the northern Bahamas reef life
BABY TURTLES WITH PHIL LANOUE
Credits: Melinda Riger & Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba for the main photos; Melissa Maura, Nathan Robinson, Friends of the Environment and other FB sharers for the small images; National Geographic for range chart and information
I have never had the pleasure of seeing a hawksbill in the wild, but oh, what a majestic creature they are. Thanks for this interesting post filled with great information, RH.
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It’s such a privilege to watch them. I’ve never swum with them on the reefs (I’d love to), but when we are out fishing from a skiff, in certain areas of the mangroves their little heads pop up from time to time, or they come gliding past. Luckily they show no interest in the fishing flies… RH
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