HAWKSBILL TURTLES: ENJOY THEM WHILE YOU CAN


Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: ENJOY THEM WHILE YOU CAN

Pliny the Elder (CE 23–79) was one of the earliest naturalists, besides being a philosopher, author and military commander. He wrote Naturalis Historia (Natural History), a wide-ranging work that became a model for later scholarly works, including forms of Encyclopedia. And, as he so nearly wrote, ‘si non amas testudines, vacua anima tua est’ (he that loves not sea turtles, has an empty mind)*

Hawksbill turtle grazing while a French angelfish looks onHawksbill Turtle with French Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

There can be few better ways to start the New Year than with some gorgeous Hawksbill Turtles  Eretmochelys imbricata, plus a sprinkling of turtle facts to give 2019 a good push into orbit. Fortunately still available in Bahamas waters, the continued existence of Hawksbills is under serious threat. Make the most of your opportunities.

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

  • Guesstimates of the world Hawksbill Turtle population suggest that there are 5 main groups in the oceans, with few enough individuals – especially breeding females – to warrant an IUCN listing of the species as critically endangered
  • I doubt that many will forget that the next IUCN category is… extinct (≠ ‘fun fact’)
  • The largest Hawksbill colony in the world nests on an island in Queensland Australia
  • Turtles leave the sea to lay eggs in a hole dug on the beach, before returning to the sea.
  • The eggs hatch after c60 days… the turtlings emerge and are then on their own
  • Hawksbills are omnivorous, mainly eating sponges (& immune from sponge toxins)
  • They also eat sea anemones, mollusks, and jellyfish
  • Their grazing lifestyle is an important component of a healthy coral reef ecosystem

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

  • Though their shells are hard, Hawksbills are prey for sharks, crocodiles, octopuses and the biggest predator of all, humans“.
  • Despite international Hawkbill protection and conservation measures, they continue to be illegally hunted – including, in some places, for food.
  • Their lovely shells – tortoiseshell – are illegally traded for use for ornaments and jewellery
  • Japan makes its own rules (as with whales) for traditional & no doubt research purposes
  • ‘Tortoiseshell’ is the illegal item most frequently confiscated by custom officials
  • Reef and beach degradation, development, light pollution (confuses the baby turtles trying to paddle to the sea), ocean pollution / marine debris, and illegal practices are among the greatest dangers to the survival of the species. All are caused, directly or indirectly, by you and indeed me

Hawksbill T ©Melinda Riger + G B Scuba copy.jpg

Credits: wonderful photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 5) & Adam Rees / Scuba Works (3, 4, 6); Widecast; Nature Conservancy; OneKind Planet

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

* Do not believe this – I invented it. The quote that props up the pretentious stuff, that is – all the rest is true…

BAHAMAS SEA TURTLES: IN THEIR ELEMENT


Green Turtle, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Green Turtle

BAHAMAS SEA TURTLES: IN THEIR ELEMENT

Of all the sea creatures in the limpid waters of the Bahamas, turtles are rightly among the most loved. These days, what with habitat degradation below the waves and the destruction of nesting sites on land, turtles have a hard time simply fighting for survival. And that’s before they have ingested the plastic garbage that mankind pours into their living quarters, by now probably beyond effective remedial action forever. So here are some gorgeous turtles to admire, while stocks last…

Hawksbill Turtles enjoying life around a still-healthy reefHawksbill Turtle, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

A hawksbill snacking on a spongeHawksbill Turtle, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Interaction with other underwater species: gray angelfish and a rock beautyHawksbill Turtle, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

If you are concerned about the plight of turtles and indeed other denizens of the thickening plastic soup we still call ‘ocean’, you could investigate the work some of the organisations that tackle the problem in the Bahamas and beyond. To name but a few, our own FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT; the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST; the Bahamas Reef Environmental, Educational Foundation BREEF; the CAPE ELEUTHERA FOUNDATION; and the SEA TURTLE CONSERVANCY

Photo credits: all great photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…


Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…

Daydream for a moment. Imagine that you had a different occupation. And your new one involved daily contact with spectacular wildlife underwater (this assumes you can swim – debatable in my case). And access to some upmarket camera equipment. And the ability to use it effectively. Oh, and use of a reliable boat. And some sea.

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Say, for example, you joined a dive operation. Then the chances are very high that these wonderful creatures would be a part of your daily 9-to-5. 

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

You wake up with a start. Oh no! Half an hour gone, and that crucial email still half-written… Where did the time go?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

All gorgeous turtles taken by Adam Rees of Scuba Works (slogan: “Land is so overrated”) in the course of his everyday working life. Some people, eh?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

GETTING THE MEASURE OF TURTLES ON ABACO


Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scub 4

GETTING THE MEASURE OF TURTLES ON ABACO

A recent summer course on Abaco was held in partnership between Elizabeth Whitman (Florida International University) and Friends of the Environment/Frank Kenyon Centre. Participants learned about sea turtle biology and ecology, and discussed potential threats to the vulnerable population. After a classroom session, the team headed out to Snake Cay Creek to carry out a field survey. The turtles caught were measured, weighed, tagged (if not already), and given a general health assessment. Each turtle was then released.

The data captured by such courses is invaluable in the continuing assessment of the health of the local turtle population. In addition, such projects provide a valuable opportunity for people to become involved in a fascinating and rewarding local conservation project – with a literally hands-on experience.

Turtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, Abaco

Credits: Beth Whitman, Friends of the Environment, Jacque Cannon, Maureen Collins, Melinda Riger

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: WONDERFUL… & CRITICALLY ENDANGERED


Hawksbill Turtle ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: WONDERFUL… & CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 3

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)map-hawksbill-turtle-160-cb1447865323

Turtle with Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

WHY ARE HAWKSBILLS CRITICALLY ENDANGERED?

  1. Despite the protection of their shells, turtles are predated on by large fish, sharks, octopuses, and (unlawfully) humans.
  2. Hawksbills are slow breeders, mating only every 2 or 3 years, which is the first drawback to species survival.
  3. 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…
  4. 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.

Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

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 seaTurtle traps - Melissa Maura copy

A straw is extracted from a turtle’s nostril (small pics on purpose – I spared you the long video)Turtle & straw 1 (Nathan Robinson : Chris Figgener) Turtle & straw 2 (Nathan Robinson : Chris Figgener) Turtle & straw 3 (Nathan Robinson : Chris Figgener)

This poor creature was found just in timeHawkbill Turtle Plastic breathecostarica copy

Assorted plastic effects (the turtle trapped in the beach chair was off Man-o-War Cay) Sea Turtle tied up in balloon string (Blair Witherington : NOAA) copyphoto copy 7 This turtle, which was found floating in North Man-O-War Channel, died as a direct result of being entangled in human trash(in this case, a lawn chair) copy IMG_1346 copy

PLEASE CAN WE GO BACK TO HAPPY PICTURES?

Healthy hawksbills happily living the northern Bahamas reef lifeHawksbill Turtle (m) (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle (flipper damage) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

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Hawksbill Turtle & photo ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

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