Whale Shark Research – Islands, Marine Life & Lemurs
with Aqua-Firma Photographer Ralph Pannell
& Madagascar's leading Whale Shark Researcher Stella Diamant
Length: up to 1 m / 3 ft
Weight: up to 60 - 70 kg
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
Hawksbill turtles are a fairly widespread, found predominantly in tropical reefs in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. We often see them when we snorkel, scuba dive and freedive in Madagascar, at Mafia Island in Tanzania, at Pigeon Island in Sri Lanka and the Seychelles archipelago in shallow reef area around the islands. In the past they have been heavily exploited for their shells, however, in recent years populations have gradually started to recover. This recovery is as a consequence to the introduction of protective legislations brought in by the Seychelles Government. Small numbers of hawksbill turtles still breed on the main islands, but larger rookeries exist on offshore and reserve islands.
These medium sized sea turtles can be distinguished from the Green Turtle by the large overlapping scales on their carapace, a distinctly protruding hooked upper beak and their relatively narrower and more pointed head.
The carapace of the hawksbill turtle is a warm brown colour above, with patterns of black, reddish brown and yellow. They have orangey yellow undersides, dark heads and scales which are generally separated by light coloured yellow or white borders. They also have a distinctive hooked upper beak. Hatchlings have a uniformly dark brown appearance, with a slightly black underside.
Hawksbill turtles forage on sponges, soft bodied invertebrates and reef algae. In the sea they tend to be very approachable, however nervous on land as they emerge onto the beach to lay their eggs. By night, they sleep in coral caves and underneath overhangs in the reef.
Hawksbill turtles of the western Indian Ocean are somewhat unique in their breeding patterns, in that they nest during daylight hours as appose to night time. They generally nest on sandy beaches during the northwest monsoon (September - March). On average, females lay around 170 eggs, although up to 250 eggs was once recorded. Their nests tend to be a hole dug on the beach platform, usually amongst beach-crest vegetation, favouring more shaded areas than their Green Turtle relatives. Eggs generally take between 55 and 70 days to hatch, with hatchlings usually emerging en masse, very often at dusk, to race down to the ocean waves. Females typically lay 3 - 5 clutches of eggs in a season, but do not tend to return to nest during two successive seasons. In the Seychelles, they generally return to breed after intervals of two or three years.