The critically endangered hawksbill turtle takes its name from the fact that it has a narrow head and characteristic beak resembling that of a hawk.
The hawksbill sea turtle population has seen an 80% decline in the last century and there are now believed to be only 15,000 nesting females remaining globally. The hawksbill turtle is harvested and exploited for its valuable shell, which is used to make ornaments, jewellery and decorative items. It is also further threatened by degradation of its marine environment, particularly coral reefs where their primary food source (sponges) is to be found in abundance.
The current conservation status of the hawksbill turtle is that it is internationally listed as being Critically Endangered, and furthermore facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.
The hawksbill turtle is found predominantly in shallow waters of less than 20 metres around the Caribbean and the most significant nesting areas are centred around the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, accounting for up to 30% of the hawksbill’s nesting areas in the Caribbean. Previously, Panama was the most significant site in this regard but now only a small population remains there.
Conservation efforts have proved difficult as the waters frequented by the hawksbill sea turtle spans many political boundaries, and so cooperation is required between many nations in order to ensure that it is adequately protected.
Although Japan no longer imports hawksbill turtle shell after the trade ended in 1993, there is still a significant illegal trade in ‘tortoiseshell’ as it is often known, and moves by Cuba to attempt to downgrade the hawksbill turtle to a lower risk category would allow the harvesting and trade of the hawksbill turtle for its shell once more.
By adopting a hawksbill turtle you will help the WWF to fund further research and protection of these creatures as well as efforts to maintain international pressure regarding the sale of hawksbill turtle shell and the further development of cooperation between nations to safeguard their future.