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Hawksbill Turtle

Eretmochelys imbricata


Despite the Hawksbill turtle being a truly global species, females show the incredible behaviour of natal homing, returning to their original breeding grounds due to ‘breeding ground fidelity’.

Females will return to the very beach that they were born on, to lay their own eggs! It is believed that this occurs by use of magnetic sensing. Females will lay on average 80 eggs per nest, and all the hatchlings will emerge from the nest together, scurrying towards the sea in what is commonly known as a “nest explosion”. These turtles can be argued to be ecosystem engineers has they have a disproportionate impact on their environment compared to their size.

Hawksbills have been found to support healthy reefs by controlling sponges which would otherwise out-compete reef-building corals for space. Young hawksbill turtles are unable to dive deep and so spend their early lives floating amongst sea plants near the water’s surface.

Turtles and tortoises comprise the order of reptiles known as Testudines, whose closest relatives are birds and crocodiles. Testudines diverged from crocodiles and birds more than 250 million years ago, in the Late Permian or Early Triassic period. This is millions of years before dinosaurs walked the Earth!

Unfortunately, this species is in a massive population decline with an estimated 87% decline in number of mature females nesting annually over the last three hawksbill generations. This is due to a number of different anthropogenic impacts such as hunting, egg poaching, bycatch in fisheries, beach erosion and many more. There a number of conservation programmes running small schemes to protect their local nesting turtles, but there are also treaties and agreements to stop hunting and trade, public awareness campaigns, protected marine areas.

  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Population: Unknown
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 62.5-114 cm
  • Weight: 45-68 kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 6.52 (?)
ED Score: 41.44 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


This species has a circumglobal distribution throughout tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean. They nest in at least 70 countries.

Habitat and Ecology

Hawksbills nest on insular sandy beaches throughout the tropics and subtropics. They are highly migratory and use a wide range of localities and habitats during the life time. They eat large amounts of algae, sponges, crustaceans and sea urchins.

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Tourism Other weather Fossil fuels Fishing Recreation Industry

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Download the Survival Blueprint for this species below. Each survival blueprint is compiled by an EDGE Fellow working on the species with input from collaborators and stakeholders. The Survival Blueprint provides a status review (information on the distribution, protection status, habitat & ecology, threat and stakeholder analysis) and more information on the action programme listed here.

Vision (30-50 years)

Coastal communities in the Nicoya Peninsula use hawksbill sea turtle conservation as a tool to promote sustainable development and tourism through the protection of foraging grounds, environmental education and sustainable fishing.

Goal (5-10 years)

Ensure the Cabo Blanco management plans encompass a set of effective regulations for the protection of the most active hawksbill foraging grounds supported by improved knowledge and accurate empirical data, in partnership with local communities and fisher associations.


Expand the acoustic monitoring program to at least 10 acoustic receivers and 50 acoustic transmitters within the Cabo Blanco Management Area Critical
Identify threats to hawksbill sea turtles in foraging grounds within the Nicoya peninsula and gulf Critical
Secure the protection of hawksbill sea turtle foraging grounds within the management plan of the Cabo Blanco Management Area Critical
Promote the use of hawksbill sea turtles as flagship species in the local communities Critical
Design and develop an education program around juvenile hawksbill turtles for primary schools in coastal communities within the Cabo Blanco Management Area High
Promote sustainable fishing methods within local fishers’ associations High
Develop a reef monitoring programme in collaboration with local associations, dive shops, and national authorities Medium

Daniel Arauz

  • Project name: Home range of hawksbill sea turtles as a conservation tool in Costa Rica
  • Project site: Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Active: 2018 - 2020
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