The hawksbill sea turtle resembles other sea turtles, but has a longer, curved beak and a slightly less tidal shell shape. However, this reptile, unlike other related species, does not live in open ocean waters, but in the shallow waters of lagoons and near coral reefs of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific, where it feeds primarily on marine sponges.
Although the range of occurrence of hawksbill turtles is large, their population, apart from Australia, has decreased in most breeding sites by about 80% over the last three generations. The situation in Southeast Asia is particularly difficult. This was mainly due to hunting and poaching for tortoise shells and turtle meat, as well as pollution of breeding sites and waters.
The hawksbill turtle is a critically endangered species (CR category on the IUCN list). It is included in the CITES convention (Appendix I). Threatened by fishing (random catches), poaching (for its meat, carapace and eggs) and by habitat loss and degradation.
It is an oviparous animal. Mating takes place depending on distribution, usually in late spring to summer. The interval between successive reproduction lasts 2–3 years. It can breed several times (up to 2–5 times) a year. The female digs a hole into which she then lays 32 to 140 (average 80) eggs. The laid eggs are covered with sand. The diameter of the eggs is 3–4 cm. Incubation lasts 47–75 days. Gender is determined by the ambient temperature. The young measure 3 to 4 mm and are independent immediately after hatching. The hawksbill turtle matures very late, usually after the age of 30.
Efforts are being made to protect this vital coral reef species. There is an improvement in the situation, for example in the Caribbean, but it is difficult to rebuild the population, e.g. also because, although turtles live for a very long time, they mature slowly and take a long time to hatch. The illegal trade in turtles in some countries has still not been stopped. In several countries, including China and Japan, hawksbill turtle meat is considered a great delicacy, and carapace (tortie) is used for decorative purposes.
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