Hawksbill Sea Turtle

This graphic is provided courtesy of Peppermint Narwhal Creative.

This graphic is provided courtesy of Peppermint Narwhal Creative.

Species name: Hawksbill sea turtle

Nombre en Español: Tortuga Carey

Latin Name: Eretmochelys imbricata

Family: Cheloniidae

IUCN Endangered Status: Critically Endangered


The slender, somewhat flattened profile of the Hawksbill gives it a streamlined appearance. It is the only sea turtle whose costal and vertebral scutes of the upper shell (carapace) overlap the ones behind them, much like a shingled roof. The upper shell has a beautiful rich reddish brown or dark brown mottling. The head is long and narrow compared to that of other sea turtles and it has a narrow hawk-like beak, for which it was named. Its weight ranges from 95-165 pounds (43-75 kilograms).


Habitat and Distribution

Hawksbills are denizens of coral reefs and rocky areas, shallow coastal areas, and lagoons. They are found worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas. Specimens sometimes wash ashore dead or entangled in fishing nets, lines, or onion bags along the Texas Coast. A sizable nesting population exists on coasts of Campeche and Yucatan, Mexico.

General Information

Hawksbills feed primarily on sponges. This accounts for their close association with coral reef and rock formations. This species nests every second or third year. The average number of eggs per clutch is 160; several clutches per season are produced. The hatchlings of this species, like those of other sea turtles, may float among rafts of sargassum.

Current Threats and Historic Reasons for Decline

There has been over-exploitation of Hawksbills for their eggs and for the highly coveted scutes of the shell. Scutes made of keratin (what fingernails and hair are made of) cover the shell. These beautifully colored scutes are called tortoise shell (bekko or carey), which is highly sought after to make a variety of expensive trinkets including earrings, bracelets, combs, jewelry boxes and even table tops. Most of the bekko originates from Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean Islands.

Photos by Adrienne McCracken