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We love turtles!

On Long Caye, we’re privileged to be in one of the best locations in the Caribbean for seeing marine life up close and personal. This photo of a brilliantly colored hawksbill sea turtle was captured very recently by guests Gert and Kathy Walter while snorkeling at our Adventure Island.

Hawksbill Turtle Swimming off Long Caye, Belize
Hawksbill Turtle Swimming off Long Caye, Belize

Some of the most interesting things about the hawksbill:

Distinguishing Traits:

The hawksbill is easily distinguished from other sea turtles by its sharp, curving beak with prominent tomium, and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins. Hawksbill turtles are unique among sea turtles in that they have two pairs of prefrontal scales on the top of the head and each of the flippers usually has two claws.

Coloring:

Hawksbill shells slightly change colors, depending on water temperature. While this turtle lives part of its life in the open ocean, it spends more time in shallow lagoons and coral reefs.

Status:

Human fishing practices threaten E. imbricata populations with extinction. The World Conservation Union classifies the hawksbill as critically endangered. Hawksbill shells are the primary source of tortoiseshell material used for decorative purposes. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species outlaws the capture and trade of hawksbill sea turtles and products derived from them.

Size:

100-150 lbs (45-70 kg) for an average adult, but can grow as large as 200 lbs (~90 kg);
hatchlings weigh about 0.5 oz (15 g) Length: 25-35 inches

Reproduction:

Female hawksbills return to the beaches where they were born (natal beaches) every 2-3 years to nest. They usually nest high up on the beach under or in the beach/dune vegetation. They commonly nest on pocket beaches, with little or no sand. They nest at night, and they nest about every 14-16 days during the nesting season. The nesting season varies with locality, but in most locations nesting occurs sometime between April and November. A female hawksbill generally lays 3-5 nests per season, which contain an average of 130 eggs. Eggs incubate for around 2 months.

Feeding:

A study by Dr. Anne Meylan of the Florida Marine Research Institute showed that 95% of a Hawksbill’s diet is made up of sponges (read more about Hawksbill diet). In the Caribbean, these turtles feed on more than 300 sponge species. This is an interesting food choice – sponges have a skeleton made of needle-shaped spicules (made of silica, which is glass, calcium or protein), which essentially means, as James R. Spotila said in his book Sea Turtles, “a hawkbill’s stomach is filled with small glass shards.”