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Hawksbill turtle 0809

Page history last edited by ecop 13 years, 10 months ago
The Hawksbill Turtle 


 By: Paul Bogosian



Description and Rationale


The Philippines is a tropical rainforest filled with a broad variety of beautiful animals. However some of these species are decreasing more and more in population over the years. So much so that a beautiful reptile like the Hawksbill turtle has become critically endangered.

            The Hawksbill turtle is a large sea based turtle capable of growing up to around a meter in length and weighing over 80 kilograms. They are valued by poachers for their shells or as a culinary delicacy in some countries. Hawksbill turtles are so named because of their distinct head which looks almost like a bird’s head.

            So why should we be interested in this turtle? What makes it so important that it deserves all this attention? Why in the world should we care that the Hawksbill turtle is rapidly disappearing? What possible benefit could the survival of the Hawksbill turtle offer to the Philippine people? Above all, how would you stop the poachers from killing the turtles to sell their shells?

            The International Union for Conservation of nature (IUCN) classified the Hawksbill turtle as critically endangered which means the organism is on the verge of extinction. The main objective for this project is to help take steps to preserve and protect the Hawksbill turtle. So it will no longer be endangered. What this implies for the Philippine people is a way of preserving the natural beauty of the Philippines and all its amazing tropical species. This project may not benefit the Filipino’s directly, but in the long term preserving this species will help keep the Philippines the beautiful nation that it is. It will also teach the Filipino people to protect the wildlife around them.

            This will be accomplished by interviewing local government officials about the problem and working with them to create awareness among the Philippine people. Also working with the navy and coastguard to enforce tighter security measures so foreign vessels will be unable to poach the Hawksbill turtle. Recently 101 Hawksbill turtles were found dead by the Philippine navy on a Vietnamese fishing ship  (WWF- Philippines). It is a good thing that the poachers were caught, but what is disappointing is that they weren’t stopped before they captured the turtles. The main goal of this project is to increase the awareness and security so that incidents like this will be prevented. 


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Common Names and Synonyms


The Hawksbill Turtle, also known as Eretmochelys imbricata is a critically endangered turtle in the Philippines and all over the world. It derives it name from the presence of its bill. Which is similar to that of a hawk’s beak. It has a variety of names in different languages. In Tagalog it is simply called pawikan. Which means sea turtle or marine turtle. In Spanish it is called tortuga de carey and in French it is called caret, tortue caret, tortue imbriquée, and a variety of other names.





Kingdom       Animalia

Phylum          Chordata

Class             Reptilia (Reptile)

Order             Testudines (Turtle)

Family            Cheloniidae (Sea Turtle)

Genus            Eretmochelys (Hawksbill)

Species         E. imbricata (overlapping like tiles)


            Sea turtles are very diverse creatures. What makes the Hawksbill turtle different from other turtles is the shape and pattern of its shell, which is shown by the latin word imbricata. Also another distinguishing factor is the unique shape of its beak.



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Morphology and Physical Description


External Anatomy

            The Hawksbill Turtle usually is around 62-114 cm in length and weighs around 35-127 kg.

           Eretmochelys imbricata have 5 features that distinguish them from other sea turtles. Their heads have two pairs of prefrontal scales. They also have two claws on each of their forelimbs. There are thick, overlapping scutes on their carapaces, which also have four pairs of costal scutes. Their elongate mouths resemble a beak, that taper off to a sharp point at the end.”



Males are distinguished from females by their brighter scales, concave plastron, longer claws, and thicker tails.




The internal anatomy of the hawksbill turtle is the same as most sea turtles. They have large powerful pectoral muscles to operate the front fins and pull themselves through the water. Also they have no gills. Sea Turtles must approach the surface for air because although they spend most of their time in the sea they have lungs. Their lungs are multi-chambered and they ventilate their lungs by the movement of the ventral muscle, rocking of the shoulder masses to change pressure, and compression of the inguinal region. Their ability to function at low blood-oxygen levels enables them to hold their breath for extended periods of time.



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Getting Food


Hawksbill Turtles are omnivorous and feed mostly on sponges, especially those which would be poisonous to other animals. However they also frequently feed on different types of jellyfish and mollusks and a variety of plants and animals that can be found in the shallow waters that the hawksbills inhabit. Their feeding grounds are not limited to a specific spot as they a migratory animals. They will feed in whatever shallow are they happen to be in at the time, which is easy because they can eat a broad spectrum of animals and plants. They do not feed at any specific time but whenever they are hungry they eat because there is such an abundance of food for them.



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Hawksbills mate every 2-3 years in shallow waters. Then the female leaves the water 1-3 hours to dig a hole for the eggs in the sand usually near vegetation. After this process is finished the female immediately returns to the water. The eggs hatch after 2 months and the baby turtles make their way towards the water guided by the reflection of light off the water. On the way many are preyed on by gulls and various other birds. Also humans are known to steal the eggs before they are hatched. The hatchlings that do survive make their way to the water and if they are female return to a nesting spot in two to three years to lay their own nests. Male hawksbills become mature when they reach 27 centimeters long and females become mature at 31 centimeters. Although because of the wide range of these animals little is known on what age they reach these lengths. When fully mature they can grow up to 200 pounds and they live up to 20 years.



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Environmental Factors


Hawksbills are long distance travelers and can travel up to 5000 miles, but they like to live in shallow water below 18 meters in depth so they can maximize their food intake. They inhabit tropic regions and have few known diseases. The hawksbills main environmental threat is the rapid decline of coral reefs. Hawksbills rely on coral reefs the gather in the food they need and the plants and animals they eat need the coral reefs to survive. However with the constant commercialization of beaches and destruction of coral reefs, Hawksbill lose feeding grounds and nesting sites. Like most turtles they predators are few because of the protection which their shell offers but they have been known to be killed by sharks, crocodiles and the most effective of their killers, humans. Hawksbills have a symbiotic relationship with coral reefs. They keep the sponges from overpopulation and the coral reefs provide protection and food for them.



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Origin and Distribution


Hawksbills are native mainly in warm tropic waters throughout the world. Nesting sites are located in over 70 countries in the world, however hawksbills are believed to inhabit the shallow coastal waters of over 108 countries. The Philippines is one of the nesting sites. The Philippines is an excellent nesting and feeding spot for the hawksbill with its abundance of islands. These islands give the hawksbills coral reefs for feeding and countless beaches to nest on.


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Importance to People


The Hawksbill Turtle has no negative effect on humans if left alone. However adults and eggs are used as a delicacy for people. Though it has been recently discovered that the skin, which is used for leather, and the meat, which is eaten, is poisonous to humans. This could prove helpful in the preservation of this species, but the shell is still very valuable and poachers will kill hundreds of turtles just for shells. The shells sell for around 225$ a kilo which encourages poachers to break international and national laws to attain it. They are used for ornaments on walls and are particularly popular in Japan. However, the major importance of the hawksbill to humans is its beauty. The hawksbill is one of the most beautiful turtles in the world and its population is in rapid decline because of that. Seeing a hawksbill in the water is one of the most breathtaking sights the ocean has to offer. If it weren’t for the human threat hawksbills would be flourishing.



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Survivability and Endangered Status


Hawksbills are classified as critically endangered by the ICUN. Which means that they have a very high risk of extinction in the immediate future. The Population has been decreasing rapidly over the years due to poaching and people stealing the eggs of hawksbills. It was estimated that their were around 10,000 to 1,000,000 Hawksbills alive in the world. However that was in 1999 and since then they have gone from vulnerable to critically endangered. Worldwide efforts for their conservation have been put into effect however there is still rampant poaching of the turtles. This is because although one country may try to protect the turtles they will migrate and perhaps they will migrate to another country whose laws are not so strict. This could be a country like the Philippines a lot of poaching goes on in the Philippines because of the closeness to Japan and the looseness of its system. The Philippines has however made a treaty with Malaysia to protect various islands in their territories known as the turtle islands heritage protected area.



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Potential Solutions



            The Hawksbill turtle is one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet and because of that it has become critically endangered. The most beautiful part of the Hawksbill is its amazing shell. Thousands of hawksbills are slaughtered only for their shell around the world. However my objective in this project is to see what is happening in the Philippines and how the situation with the hawksbill can be helped. The Philippines is a major nesting ground for the hawksbill and because of this it is subject to constant raids from foreign countries to obtain hawksbills. The extent of this process needs to be assessed in order for change to happen in the Philippines. Below are three possibilities with an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages for each. Along with each possibility is a current status report of the progress made to date on each of the possibilities.


Possibility 1 - Coast Guard and Navy


On searching the news online I came across several articles involving the poaching of hawksbill turtles in the Philippines. Just last year 101 hawksbill turtles were found on a Vietnamese ship. All of which had drowned in the ships cargo hold. (http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/hawksbill-poaching827.html#cr) Also last year over 10,000 green and Hawksbill turtle eggs were seized in malaysia. They were said to have originated in the Philippines and they were smuggled there. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/asia-pacific/7708372.stm) In most cases like these the criminals are apprehended but usually are let go after paying some fine or bribe. The solution is clear, the Philippines needs to tighten up their security and increase the punishment for poaching Hawksbills.




1.)  The Philippines would become a safe haven for hawksbills. Gradually the nesting grounds in the Philippines would increase and the numbers of hawksbills worldwide would grow reducing the chance of extinction.

2.)  The Philippines might become an example for other third world nations who have hawksbill turtle nesting grounds. If these countries followed the Philippines example it would drastically change the current situation of the Hawksbills.




1.)  Philippine officials are very proud and it would be very hard to get them to admit to any flaws in their system and even if you did they would not be likely to change.

Corruption is a major problem that would also have to be dealt with. It is probable that the reason so many poachers are let off for smuggling is because they pay large bribes to the officials. If this is the case there is no hope for change in this area. The only way to change this would be to change the whole Philippine system of government where accepting bribes is part of everyday business. 


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Possibility 2 - Growing Hawksbills in a Controlled Environment


Since the Philippines is an active nesting ground for Hawksbills, it might be possible for the Philippine government or some environmentalist group to take hawksbill eggs and keep them in a controlled environment. This would entail keeping secure nesting grounds and restricted roaming along some secluded coast with the use of nets and other devices. Guards could be set and gradually the hawksbills in the controlled environment could produce more eggs and some could be let out into the wild while some stayed in the controlled environment.




1.)  This would drastically improve the hawksbills chances of survival and their numbers would increase fairly well. If this could be adopted on a large scale it could dramatically boost the hawksbill population.

2.)  It would eliminate the chance of poaching and thus increase the survival rate of the hawksbills exponentially.

3.)  It would also eliminate any chance of the nature killing the hawksbills because of the constant watch that would be on them.




1.)  Although the hawksbills main habitat is coastal, it is by nature a migratory turtle. This would create problems in the controlled environment because of the hawksbills natural desire to travel.

2.)  It would require an enormous amount of funds. More than what the Philippine government could or would furnish.



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Possibility 3 - Investigation


Another way to assess the current situation of the Hawksbill in the Philippines is investigation. The Philippines is rich in cultural shopping places called tiendesitas. They attract a great deal of tourist buyers and it is highly likely that they would sell hawksbill turtles or perhaps know about the sale of hawksbill turtles.



1.)  An investigation of this sort would show how bad the situation of hawkbills is in the Philippines.

2.)  Whether or not information is found concerning the hawksbills, the investigation will provide an accurate assessment of how tight the security is with the sale of hawksbills in the Philippines.



1.)  The tiendesitas that are accessible to me are in a very urban area. The results of this investigation my could be compromised because of how far the tiendesita is from the sea.

2.)  The people that are interviewed may pretend not to know anything for fear of the police.



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Bjorndal, K. A. 1999. Conservation of Hawksbill Sea Turtles: Perceptions and Realities". Accessed 04/16/09 at http://www.turtles.org/bjorndal.htm.


Eretmochelys imbricata, Hawksbill Sea Turtle - MarineBio.org. Retrieved Friday, May 3, 2009, from http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=164.


Ernst, C., J. Lovich, R. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.


Lutz, P. L., J. A. Musick. 1997. The Biology of Sea Turtles. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.


Mortimer, J.A & Donnelly, M. 2008. Eretmochelys imbricata. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 03 May 2009.


New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2003. "Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle Fact Sheet" (On-line ). Accessed 04/21/09 at http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/wildlife/endspec/athafs.html.


Pope, C. H. 1939. Turtles of the United States & Canada. New York: Alfred A Knopf.


Turtle Trax. 1999. "The Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)" (On-line ). Accessed 04/16/09 at http://www.turtles.org/hawksd.htm.


Reyes, Jose. Personal Interview. Tiendesitas. 7, May 2009.


World Wildlife Foundation. "Hawksbill Turtle" (On-line ). Accessed 04/21/09 at http://www.wwfguianas.org/hawksbill.htm.



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