The Hawksbill Turtle


Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hawksbill turtle carapace

  • 4 pairs or more of large scales on either side (costal scales)
  • Thick overlapping carapace scales
  • Carapace high domed
  • Colour olive-green or brown, variegated with brown or black markings
  • Adult carapace approximately 0.8 metres

Distribution and habitats


Hawksbill turtles typically occur in tidal and sub-tidal coral and rocky reef habitats throughout the tropical waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans

In Australia the main feeding area extends along the east coast, including the Great Barrier Reef. Other feeding areas include Torres Strait and the archipelagos of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, possibly as far south as Shark Bay or beyond. Hawksbill turtles also feed at Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Breeding areas and nesting seasons

Hawksbills mate and nest in secluded lagoons off beaches in remote islands throughout their range. The most significant nesting beaches are in Mexico, the Seychelles, Indonesia, and Australia.

In Australia hawksbill turtles nest along the Great Barrier Reef from just north of Princess Charlotte Bay to Torres Strait. Within the Northern Great Barrier Reef area there are several significant nesting areas including: Milman, and Bouydong Islands and the islands within Torres Strait.

Significant nesting also occurs in the Northern Territory including the Groote Island and Arnem Land sections.

The north-west shelf of Western Australia has several significant nesting areas within the Dampier Archipelago and the Montebello Islands.

Although hawksbill turtles breed throughout the year, the peak nesting period in the Torres Strait and Great Barrier Reef region occurs between January and February. In Arnhem Land, nesting peaks between July and October. The Western Australian nesting season occurs primarily from October to January, but the entire breeding season remains undefined.


Sponges make up a major part of the diet of hawksbill turtles, although they also feed on seagrasses, algae, soft corals and shellfish.


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