Hawksbill Turtle – Hawksbill’s are the most common species of Turtle we see in Thai waters’, usually spotted on shallow reefs where diving is quite common. They have been giving the name Hawksbill because of its hawk like beak.
Hawksbill Turtles are a threatened species and despite their protection they are still hunted for their meat and shell, which make souvenirs for the ignorant to take home.
Within the last century alone, the species has decline almost 80 per cent, with many of their breeding grounds been turned into hotel complexes and their eggs stolen by unscrupulous people out to make a quick buck.
Accurately assessing the breeding patterns and overall population is not so easy, though a recent estimate found around 800 females nesting, with the largest breeding ground being in Queensland, Australia.
Though here in Thailand there are several islands in the Similans group which have been closed to divers for well over a decade to help these wonderful creatures breed in private.
After a tagging program it was found that the Hawksbill turtle can travel long distances in order to mate, prior to this tagging program, they were thought to be less migratory than there other cousins.
Hawksbills are not as big as some turtle’s reaching no more than a metre in length weighing not much than 50 kilos. Their coloration is often a streaked shell of marble and amber, with touches of yellows, greens and brown too.
Hawkbill’s have a varied diet; they can often be seen on dives clambering over soft and hard coral indiscriminately to get their chops on bubble coral which they love. They will also eat small invertebrates that they find, they will also eat terrestrial food like bananas and other fallen fruit they find on beaches.
Another reason why these poor turtles are so threatened is due to their sexual maturity which does come until they are in their early thirty’s. Newly born turtles can spend up to the first ten years of their life on the open current. During this oceanic phase, the turtle is susceptible to predators like sharks, whales and even marine birds.
They are notoriously slow developers; another obvious problem for the turtle is that once they are born they are buried on beaches until they hatch. The sex of the turtle is determined by the surrounding temperatures, the warmer the more likely that females will be born.
They will lay several hundred eggs on a beach, and there will be seldom more than a few hundred nests in any particular area, once they have hatch these tiny little turtles have to then make a mad dash for the open ocean. Where waiting for them are some of the fiercest predators around. Mortality rates amongst baby turtles is extremely high
Hawksbills tend to nest every two or three years and they can lay around anything up to three hundred eggs in one sitting. It’s obvious that this beautiful creature needs help to survive, let’s just hope, that the help that they are now receiving has not come too late.