Eretmochelys imbricata - (Linnaeus, 1766)
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Other English Common Names: Hawksbill
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Eretmochelys imbricata (Linnaeus, 1766) (TSN 173836)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.102642
Element Code: ARAAA03010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Turtles
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Chelonia Cryptodeira Cheloniidae Eretmochelys
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: King, F. W., and R. L. Burke, editors. 1989. Crocodilian, tuatara, and turtle species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Association of Systematics Collections, Washington, D.C. 216 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B89KIN01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Eretmochelys imbricata
Taxonomic Comments: Shell size and shape are variable throughout the range, and distinct population demes apparently exist; further analysis is needed. Two subspecies, E. i. imbricata (Atlantic) and E. i. bissa (Pacific), are recognized; additional study is needed to determine if these subspecies are valid, and whether other populations warrant subspecific recognition (Ernst and Barbour 1989).

Genetic analyses in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific indicate that nesting populations comprise separate and identifiable stocks that should be treated as separate management units (Bass et al. 1996, Bowen et al. 1996, Bowen et al. 2007).

Crother et al. (2008) has returned to the use of "sea turtles" (rather than "seaturtles") as part of the standard English name for marine turtles. The combined name has not been used recently in the literature.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3
Global Status Last Reviewed: 24Feb2014
Global Status Last Changed: 21Oct1996
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Widely distributed in tropical and subtropical seas, but due to heavy exploitation much less abundant than in the past, and likely still declining; at least 20,000 females nest each year; nesting locations have been reduced due to beach development and disturbance.
Nation: United States
National Status: N1B (21Oct1996)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States California (SNA), Delaware (SNA), Florida (S1), Hawaii (S1), Louisiana (SNA), Massachusetts (S1N), Mississippi (SNA), New Jersey (SNA), Rhode Island (SNR), South Carolina (SNR), Texas (S2)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (02Jun1970)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R2 - Southwest
IUCN Red List Category: CR - Critically endangered
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix I

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Pantropical and warm-temperate regions, rarely venturing into higher latitudes; Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Nests on beaches generally between 25 degrees latitude north and south, including tropical Gulf Coast of Mexico, West Indies, Bahamas, and the Americas. Nesting in U.S. waters: Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico (including Isla Vieques, Isla Mona, and the Culebra group); infrequently on the Atlantic coast of central and southern Florida and the Florida Keys (Meylan 1992, Lund 1985) and in the southeastern Hawaiian chain (Hawaii, Molokai; Balazs 1982).

Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Number of distinct occurrences based on nesting areas is unknown but likely falls within the indicated range. NMFS and USFWS (2007) mapped 83 nesting concentrations for which data were available; these nesting areas are a subset of the global total but include most major nesting areas. Nesting occurs in at least 70 nations (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Many occurrences include only a very few individuals.

Population Size: 10,000 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Better data are needed, though clearly this species is not as abundant as Caretta or Chelonia. For a sample of 83 nesting concentrations for which recent data were available, NMFS and USFWS (2007) estimated the number of females nesting per year at 3,072-5,603 in the Atlantic Ocean, fewer than 8,130 to as many as 10,052 in the Indian Ocean, and 10,010-12,483 in the Pacific Ocean, for a total of fewer than 21,212 to as many as 28,138. This includes most major nesting concentrations. Relatively few populations remain with more than 1,000 females nesting annually (none in the Atlantic) (Meylan and Donnelly 1999, NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Unknown

Overall Threat Impact: Very high - high
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Greatest threat is harvest for commerical (e.g., tortoiseshell trade) and subsistence (meat, eggs,) purposes (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Over the past 100 years, millions of hawksbills have been killed to supply the tortoiseshell trade. Due to extensive movements of this species, significant harvests in one location can affect populations in other locations (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Other significant threats include destruction/degradation of breeding locations by beach development and illumination, incidental take in fisheries, increased exposure to heavy metals and other contaminants (e.g., from oil tanker discharges) in some regions, entanglement in persistent marine debris (Meylan 1992), and hybridization with other sea turtle species in some areas (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Also, climate warming and imperfect egg hatchery strategies may be increasing bias in sex ratios (NMFS and USFWS 2007), but the overall severity of this threat is uncertain.

See USFWS (1998) and NMFS and USFWS (2007) for detailed information on threats, including beach erosion, beach armoring, beach nourishment, sand mining, artificial lighting, beach cleaning, increased human presence, recreational beach equipment, predation, and poaching.

Short-term Trend: Decline of >50%
Short-term Trend Comments: The time frame for short-term trend is long; three generations is roughly 60-120 years); on this basis the trend is a large decline.

For 42 sites rangewide for which recent trend (within the last 20 years) could be determined, 24 percent were increasing, 7 percent were stable, and 69 percent were declining (NMFS and USFWS 2007). For 11 sites for which quantitative continuous data for approximately 20 or more years were available, 6 were increasing, 4 were decreasing, and 1 was stable; however, these data are not representative of the global pattern because the sites are better protected than most areas. In general, trend is least favorable in the Pacific Ocean and most favorable in the Atlantic (NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Long-term Trend: Decline of 50-90%
Long-term Trend Comments: Extent of occurrence has been reduced to a small degree over the long term, but much larger reductions have occurred in population size and condition of occurrences (NMFS & USFWS 2007). For 58 sites rangewide for which long-term trend (>20 to 100 years) could be assessed, all showed a declining trend (NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Very narrow to narrow.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Population estimates; identification of nesting beaches as well as non-nesting habitats.

Protection Needs: This species would benefit from a ban on international commercial trade of shells. Most nesting beaches and adjacent land and waters need better protection from human disturbance. Year-round use of TEDs (turtle excluder devices) would be beneficial in some areas.

Frazer (1992) emphasized the primary need for clean and productive marine and coastal environments; installation of turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawl nets and use of low pressure sodium lighting on beaches were suggested as appropriate sea turtle conservation technologies, whereas headstarting, captive breeding, and hatcheries were regarded as ineffective at best. In Florida, marine pollution control and protection of coral reefs are needed (Meylan 1992). Mrosovsky (2000) argued that allowing sustainable trade would promote conservation better than would protection, but Robinson and Thorbjarnarson (2000) reported that Mrosovsky did not provide convincing support for a sustainable-use program.

See recovery plans for Atlantic and Pacific populations.

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Pantropical and warm-temperate regions, rarely venturing into higher latitudes; Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Nests on beaches generally between 25 degrees latitude north and south, including tropical Gulf Coast of Mexico, West Indies, Bahamas, and the Americas. Nesting in U.S. waters: Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico (including Isla Vieques, Isla Mona, and the Culebra group); infrequently on the Atlantic coast of central and southern Florida and the Florida Keys (Meylan 1992, Lund 1985) and in the southeastern Hawaiian chain (Hawaii, Molokai; Balazs 1982).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States CA, DE, FL, HI, LA, MA, MS, NJ, RI, SC, TX

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
FL Broward (12011), Citrus (12017), Miami-Dade (12086), Monroe (12087), Palm Beach (12099)*, St. Lucie (12111)
HI Hawaii (15001), Honolulu (15003), Kauai (15007), Maui (15009)
TX Aransas (48007)*, Calhoun (48057), Matagorda (48321), Nueces (48355)*
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Florida Bay-Florida Keys (03090203)+, Florida Southeast Coast (03090206)+, Crystal-Pithlachascotee (03100207)+
12 East Matagorda Bay (12090402)+, Central Matagorda Bay (12100401)+, Aransas Bay (12100405)+*, South Corpus Christi Bay (12110202)+*
20 Hawaii (20010000)+, Maui (20020000)+, Molokai (20050000)+, Oahu (20060000)+, Kauai (20070000)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: Hawksbill, Cheloniidae.
General Description: The hawksbill is a sea turtle in which the large scutes of the brown carapace overlap, except in very young and very old individuals; carapace has middorsal keel; some individuals exhibit a "tortoiseshell" pattern (radiating streaks); 4 costal plate on each side of carapace; two pairs of prefrontals between the eyes; limbs are flattened flippers, with 2 claws on each flipper; snout is pointed and beaklike; young are all black or dark brown except light brown raised ridges, shell edges, and areas on the neck and flippers; adult carapace length usually 76-89 cm (to 90+ cm), mass 43-75 kg (to 127 kg) (Conant and Collins 1991).
Diagnostic Characteristics: This species differs from the green turtle in having two rather than one pair of prefrontals and having overlapping scutes on the carapace (may overlap in very young green turtles). Differs from the loggerhead and ridleys in having only four rather than 5 or more costals on each side of the carapace, andin having the first costal not in contact with the nuchal. (Conant and Collins 1991).
Reproduction Comments: In West Indies, most nesting occurs May-November (apparent peak May-June). Individual adult females lay 3-6 (averaging 3-5, depending on location) clutches of 50-200+ eggs at night at intervals averaging 14-18.5 days; adult females nest at interval of usually 2 to several years (mean as low as 1.84 years in Malaysia, 5-7 years in the Solomon Islands) (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). Eggs hatch in about 2 months. Age of sexual maturity is roughly 20-40 years (ranges from 20+ years in the Caribbean to at least 30-35 years in the Indo-Pacific to 31-38 years in Australia) (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). Formerly nesting concentrations likely were larger than they they cuurently are in most areas; now nesting generally is distributed at low densities in the Caribbean (small nesting concentrations may occur on Antigua), but up to 100 per night may nest on some islands in northern Australia (see Van Meter 1983); nesting aggregations also occur in Oman, Yucatan, and the Sychelles, and these may be typical of pre-exploitation nesting densities (see NMFS and USFWS 2007).
Ecology Comments: Eggs and hatchlings incur high mortality from various predators. Humans are the most important predators on adults. In the Seychelles Islands, egg survivorship was 0.86 (see Iverson 1991).

In the U.S. Virgin Islands (Buck Island Reef National Monument), the sex ratio of the juvenile population foraging on the reef was strongly biased toward females (Geis et al. 2003). Multiple nesting populations throughout the Caribbean evidently contributed to the sex ratio.

Habitat Type: Marine
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Adults may migrate hundreds or thousands of kilometers between nesting beaches and marine feeding areas (Plotkin 2003). In the Caribbean region, 19 adults traveled minimum distances of 110-1,936 kilometers, 9 immatures 46-900 kilometers; recapture of immatures suggest long-term residency in developmental habitats (Meylan 1999). Adult females that nested in Barbados traveled 200-435 kilometers (straight-line distance) over 7-18 days to foraging areas in Dominica, Grenada, Trinidad, and Venezuela (Horrocks et al. 2001). A female tagged on a nesting beach at Buck Island Reef National Monument near St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, was recovered at Miskito Cays, Nicaragua (Hillis, 1995, Park Science 15(2):25). A feeding population at Isla Mona (Puerto Rico) included individuals from nesting populations throughout the Caribbean region (Bowen et al. 1996).

MtDNA data from the Caribbean region indicate that a natal homing mechanism predominates and that nesting populations should be considered separate stocks; foraging populations evidently are composed of cohorts from multiple regional nesting colonies (Bass 1999).

Foraging home range sizes of individuals in the West Indies were 1.96-49.5 square kilometers and were positively correlated with average water depth (Horrocks et al. 2001).

Marine Habitat(s): Near shore, Pelagic
Estuarine Habitat(s): Bay/sound, Lagoon, River mouth/tidal river, Tidal flat/shore
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Sand/dune
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic, Burrowing in or using soil
Habitat Comments: This species uses a wide range of tropical and subtropical habitats, including shallow coastal waters with rocky bottoms, coral reefs, beds of sea grass or algae, mangrove-bordered bays and estuaries, and submerged mud flats (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). Hatchlings and small juveniles associate with masses of floating sea plants (sargassum rafts) in the open ocean (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Nesting occurs on undisturbed, deep-sand, insular or mainland beaches, from high energy ocean beaches to tiny pocket beaches several meters wide contained in crevices of cliff walls; a typical site would be a low-energy sand beach with woody vegetation, such as sea grape or saltshrub, near the water line (CSTC 1990). Successive nestings usually are in the same general area.
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Diet consist primarily of invertebrates (crabs, sea urchins, shellfish, jellyfish, etc.) but also includes plant material and fishes. This species generally has been regarded as a generalist, but recent research indicates specialization on demosponges in Florida and the Caribbean. Foraging microhabitats include the bottom and reef faces, close to shore.
Phenology Comments: Nests usually at night.
Colonial Breeder: Y
Length: 81 centimeters
Weight: 75000 grams
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: This species is the source of commercial tortoise shell; exploitation increased during the 1970s (Mack et al. 1982); see Luxmoore and Canin (1985) for information on international trade in shell in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many juveniles are killed for trade in stuffed animals. Japan is the largest market for tortoise shell products and stuffed turtles; major exporters of shell in 1988 were the Maldives, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, the Comoros Islands, Fiji, and the Solomons (Matthews and Moseley 1990). Japan agreed to phase out its trade in endangered species of sea turtles by the end of 1992 (End. Sp. Tech. Bull. 16[7-8]:4). Eggs (and adults) are harvested for human consumption in some areas.
Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: See NMFS and USFWS (2007) for a summary of international and and national regulations and conventions that may provide a degree of protection to this species.
Management Requirements: Some basic needs are as follows: conduct population monitoring; protect, manage, and restore nesting populations and habitats; enforce laws to eliminate poaching and harassment; prevent egg and hatchling predation on beaches, including control or elimination of exotic nuisance species; ensure that beach nourishment and coastal construction activities are planned to avoid disruption of nesting and hatching; enact stronger restrictions on beachfront lighting, OCS oil drilling, etc. See recovery plan for U.S. Pacific populations (NMFS 1998).

See NMFS (Federal Register, 19 December 1996, pp. 66933-66947) for recent amendments to regulations pertaining to the use of turtle excluder devices along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the southeastern U.S.

See USFWS (1998) for detailed information on recovery and management needs.

Management Research Needs: Investigate life history, including movement patterns.
Biological Research Needs: In many parts of the range, better information is needed on age to maturity, reproductive output, oceanic phase of small juveniles, and at-sea mortality in fisheries (NMFS and USFWS 2007).
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Sea Turtles (Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae)

Use Class: Adult foraging area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Reliable observation of multiple adults in an area that supports productive populations of appropriate food organisms. Multiple years of information should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance refers to known areas of concentrated foraging activity. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas such as the entirety of Long Island Sound or Chesapeake Bay but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria.

Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Foraging home range sizes of individual hawksbill turtles in the West Indies were 1.96-49.5 sq km and were positively correlated with average water depth (Horrocks et al. 2001).

Date: 20Oct2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Hibernaculum
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Reliable observation of multiple dormant individuals. Multiple years of information should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance refers to known concentrations of dormant individuals. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas such as the Atlantic coast of Florida but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria.

Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Date: 20Oct2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Juvenile foraging area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Reliable observation of multiple juveniles in an area that supports productive populations of appropriate food organisms. Multiple years of information should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance refers to known areas of concentrated foraging activity. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas such as the entirety of Long Island Sound or Chesapeake Bay but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria.

Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Date: 20Oct2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Nesting area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more nesting individuals or nests with eggs.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Nesting populations on separate islands or mainland areas within the separation distance should be treated as parts of the same occurrence. However, each distinct nesting location can be treated as a distinct sub-occurrence (sub-EO) or source feature for which specific data can be recorded.

Date: 26Apr2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 07Apr2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., and D. R. Jackson
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 20Feb2009
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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