June 13th - hawksbill day
Considered by many to be the most beautiful of sea turtles for their colorful shells, the hawksbill is found in tropical waters around the world. They spend their time in coral reefs, rocky areas, lagoons, mangroves, oceanic islands, and shallow coastal areas. Named for its narrow head and sharp, bird-like beak, hawksbills can reach into cracks and crevices of coral reefs looking for food. Their diet is very specialized, feeding almost exclusively on sponges. One of the smaller turtles, adults weigh between 100-200 pounds (45 - 90 kg) and reach 2-3 feet (roughly .5 to 1 meter) in length.
This species inhabits tropical and some sub-tropical regions in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. The largest populations occur in the Caribbean Sea, the Seychelles, Indonesia, Mexico, and Australia. Hawksbills are not found in the Mediterranean and few are found in US waters; only a handful nest in Florida each year.
Their population has declined more than 80% in the last century, primarily due to the trade in their beautiful carapace (shell), also referred to as “tortoiseshell.” Its carapace, brightly colored with intricate designs, is traded internationally for ornamental purposes. The shell is used for items such as jewelry, combs and brushes, and inlay in furniture and other decorative pieces. Hawksbills were hunted almost to extinction prior to the ban on the tortoiseshell trade; Japan imported an estimated 2 million turtles between 1950 and 1992. Despite the fact that the international trade of their shells is now illegal, there is still a thriving black market.
Other threats include destruction of nesting and feeding habitat, pollution, boat strikes, coastal development, entanglement in fishing gear, consumption of their meat and eggs, and destructive fishing practices like dynamite fishing.
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Although rarely spotted, Hawaiian hawksbill sea turtles (known as “honu’ea”) reside in the same habitats as the significantly more common green sea turtles (“honu”). As an alternative to tagging, did you know that individual turtles can be monitored long-term by comparing photographs of them since each turtle has distinct facial and flipper scale patterns? To see the Hawaiian hawksbill photo-ID catalog, please check out www.HIhawksbills.org.
Hawksbill turtles are found in coral reefs around the world. However, researchers with the @Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative have recently discovered that along America’s Pacific coast, they are more often found in mangroves. Learn more about hawksbills here: https://www.seaturtleweek.com/hawksbill-day #SeaTurtleWeek
Photo credit: Dreamstime.com