Saturday, 08 June 2019 15:10

Biology of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle

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Hawksbill Turtle in Palau Hawksbill Turtle in Palau Boaz Samorai

Sea Turtles in Palau

We have two species of sea turtles in Palau, the Green Sea Turtle, and the Hawksbill Sea Turtle, both protected by the environmental protection laws of Palau. Hence we have a lot of turtles and they are very relaxed around us divers. While you dive Palau you'll surely see a couple of them and will be able to take underwater photos home. To give you more information on the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtles we've compiled the following information about this species. We hope you'll enjoy the read. 

Possessing a bird-like beak and distinctive overlapping scales and serrated edges of their shells, the Hawksbill sea turtle is one of the smaller and most agile of marine turtles, reaching ~75 cm long and weigh~ 50 Kg as adults.  A reptile in the Cheloniidae family, the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) is the only extant species in the genus Eretmochelys. Sea turtles are a group of reptiles that have been roaming the seas for the last 100 million years.

Hawksbill Turtles - Habitat 

Hawksbill sea turtles prefer the warm waters, and are circum-tropical; using different habitats at different stages of their life cycle, most commonly inhabit the top 20 meters of the water column. They are mostly found in coral reefs, lagoons, shallow coastal areas and in mangrove-fringed bays and estuaries. Once a Hawksbill has found a good resting spot, it will go back to it nightly. Having a tough shell, adult Hawksbills have few natural predators, including sharks and crocodiles, making them approachable by divers and snorkelers.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle almost touching the camera

Hawksbill Turtle Diet

Hawksbills have a varied diet, consuming seagrasses, sea urchins, barnacles, anemones, jellyfish and their favorite food is sponges. They close their eyes when feeding on stingers, and are resistant to the sponge’s toxins. Like other species of sea turtles, Hawksbills contribute to marine and coastal food webs and transport nutrients within the oceans. Hawksbills are important components of healthy coral reef ecosystems and have been found to support healthy reefs by controlling sponges and algae which would otherwise out-compete reef-building corals for space.

Hawksbill Turtle Reproduction

Hawksbill turtles are solitary for most of their lives and aggregate only to mate. Every two to three years females return to nest on the very same beaches where they themselves were hatched. After the two-month incubation period, ~5-centimeter hatchlings emerge as a group. Hatchlings use the bright, open view of the night sky over the water to find their way to the sea. Surviving females will not return for at least 20 years when they reach sexual maturity. 

Green Sea Turtle sleeping in a small cave in Palau

Protection of Sea Turtles

Hawksbills are Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red-List. Sea turtles are affected by a multitude of impacts. The greatest threat to hawksbills is the overexploitation of their shell often referred to as "tortoiseshell"; primarily by the European and Asian countries to make jewelry, hair decorations, and other ornaments. Coastal development degrades nesting grounds and causes hatchlings to mistaken the direction of the sea as attracted to the shining lights. As coral reefs are degraded world-wide there is a direct impact on habitat loss. Marine pollution and debris, watercraft strikes, and takes from commercial fishing operations all contribute to human-related hawksbill sea turtle losses.

Conclusion

Palau has imposed strict environmental protection laws and severe punishment awaits people harming the Hawksbill Sea Turtle. Palau is a role model in international marine life protection and many other countries should follow P Palau's example. It makes Palau to one of the last pieces of paradise on this planet.

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Dieter Kudler

Dieter Kudler is the latest addition to the Fish ’n Fins & Ocean Hunter management team, he joined in October 2018. Before working with Fish ’n Fins Dieter enjoyed a career as Hospitality General Manager, he led for 12 years leisure resorts in Fiji and Micronesia. He is an experienced recreational & technical diver, since 2011 SSI Platinum Pro 5000 Instructor & SSI Platinum Pro 5000 Diver. Dieter is further more an award winning underwater photographer. Connect with Dieter on Facebook.

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