We need to protect the web of life and care about the other living species we share this planet with. Pygmy tarsiers eat and harbor insects that we have seen in the home – insects, spiders, lizards, bedbugs, lice, fleas, roundworms and tapeworms. The vaquitas fall prey to great sharks and killer whales, driving them away from us. But there are only 10 vaquitas left and in their absence, sharks and whales’ diets may change. A tiger in the wild indicates that the forest it inhabits is healthy and diverse. At present, there are 3,900 tigers in the wild in the world and more than double (8,000) in captivity. By protecting the web of life, we are building a gentler world for all.
Imagine living inside an egg buried under the loam. You are in this egg for two months, brooded by hot sand until the day you hatch. Morning dawns and you see some 200 more like you, all heading for the waters.
As a hawksbill turtle hatchling you have to find the sea. It means turning your back on the darkest part around you and following the brightest light on the horizon. You crawl towards the light, knowing that it leads to the shore.
Thus was born a hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). He is a water nomad, circumtropical, traveling over 1,000 miles in the oceans to find his next home and the next home after it. Its course unfolds in stages of development. At each new “home”, he will have the same resting place at the end of his day. And every five years, an adult hawksbill turtle will return to the same shore where it was born, to lay its own eggs.
Hawksbill turtles are found along the shores of more than 108 countries. Unlike all other sea turtles, its mouth is shaped like a hawk’s beak. This allows him to reach difficult crevices and cracks to eat his favorite food, sponges. It has no teeth, but its strong jaw and beak, in tandem, crush, nibble and shred food.
Another thing unique to hawksbill turtles is their distinctly beautiful shells, randomly spotted and streaked with hues of amber, black, brown, gold, orange, red, and yellow. Additionally, scales overlap the shell, giving it a jagged appearance on the margins at its base.
The hawksbill turtle is the only sea turtle that can survive primarily on sea sponges, its favorite food. It also feeds on corals, crustaceans, jellyfish, seaweed, mollusks, plants, sea anemones, sea urchins, small fish and tunicates. Its sharp beaks allow it to penetrate deep into cracks and crevices to extract sponges from corals.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN classifies the hawksbill turtle as Critically Endangered, which means it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Its shell is in high demand by illegal poachers, who are used to make various items that tourists buy, unaware that it is illegal to do so.
Since the days of ancient Rome, the shell of the hawksbill turtle has been used to make combs and rings. But three-quarters of the hawksbill turtle trade took place between 1970 and 1985, and over the past 100 years, 90% of its entire population has been wiped out.
In 1977, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) declared trade in hawksbill turtles illegal, but it is still ongoing. From 2000 to 2008, China was the main market for 98% of these turtles. They consider the hawksbill turtle to be one of the four celestial guardian animals according to legend, protecting people from evil spirits.
Nested shells are used to make combs, jewelry, picks, sunglasses, bags and boxes of cigarettes, among other things, and the Chinese economy allows more people to buy them. Parts of the hawksbill turtle are also used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Taxidermized hawksbill turtles are a particularly popular product. Chinese poachers buy them from fishermen in Vietnam and the Philippines for US $ 70 each, then resell them in their own country for US $ 1,000. Stuffed turtles are a status symbol, proudly displayed in homes.
This makes hawksbill turtle poaching a thriving business. Chinese poachers in Hainan province source their supplies from Palawan, the Philippines or Borneo and smuggle them back to Hainan Island. Belize, Honduras, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Caribbean are other countries that illegally sell hawksbill turtles.
Japan historically purchased hawksbill turtle shells to make crafts, jewelry, and beautiful shell combs called “bekko,” which have been a part of traditional Japanese wedding dress for over 300 years. However, in 1994, Japan banned the importation of hawksbill turtle shells.
Toxic meat and eggs
Hawksbill turtle meat and eggs are eaten in many countries, especially coastal communities. This puts them at risk of illness due to toxicity or death. The fat of the hawksbill turtle can absorb the venom of some sponges or animals it eats, without being affected. But people who eat hawksbill turtle meat and / or eggs are at risk of disease through poisoning, death, and sometimes mass death.
Other threats to the hawksbill turtle include bycatch of fishing nets or hooks, plastic pollution, and habitat loss and degradation as the beaches hawksbill turtles depend on are disappearing globally due to sea level rise and coastal erosion.
Other threats include the direct harvesting of turtles and eggs for the illegal trade, predation of eggs and hatchlings, ocean pollution, marine debris, ship strikes and climate change.
Marine nomads traveling by biofluorescence
A hawksbill turtle will swim thousands of kilometers across the ocean during its lifetime, although it is not always known where it will go. As a newborn baby, he will go to the sea and find shelter in the garbage – floating seaweed mats, wrecks and jetsam. They won’t be ready for deep dives, so they are sometimes seen floating on algae and marine plants. They choose a house where their favorite sponges are plentiful.
As they become juvenile, at the bottom of the water, they will light up dark areas of the sea. This biofluorescent quality is attributed to their diet. As for habitat, juveniles prefer rocky reefs, from where they dive into shallow water to feed. Other habitat suggestions are nests in sandbanks and atolls on uninhabited islands. Juveniles alternate from short shallow sweeping dives to deep, long and relaxing dives. Scientists suggest that longer and deeper dives are part of their resting behavior.
The greatest number of nesting hawksbill turtles are found in Australia and the Solomon Islands. Each year, some 2,000 hawksbill turtles nest on the northwest coast of Australia. Another 6,000-8,000 hawksbill turtles will nest in the Great Barrier Reef each year.
The largest hawksbill turtle nests are found in the South Pacific Ocean, in the Arnavon Islands of the Solomon Islands. Some 2,000 hawksbill turtles nest here each year. For centuries, hawksbill turtles have been exploited for their shells. But due to conservation and monitoring over the past two decades by conservationists, there are signs of recovery. These turtles also nest in Indonesia, 2,000 per year and 1,000 per year in the Republic of Seychelles.
Scientists have been monitoring Solomon Islands hawksbill turtles that have traveled 500 to 1,000 miles away, to feed in Australia. Less adventurous hawksbill turtles preferred short-distance migrations, staying in an island chain. Essentially, they are seen near the shores of all of the world’s major oceans.
Hawksbill turtles live in connected waters, be it oceans, seas, etc. al., in all tropical regions of the world. Other shores where they have been observed are Brazil, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the coasts of Texas, and southern Florida, among others.
They inhabit ledges and caves formed by coral reefs or rock formations in the waters. Yet others may opt for lagoons, mangrove-lined bays, or sandbanks in shallow water and estuaries. Perhaps they will choose a beach with wooded vegetation near the waterline. And when they want to lay eggs, they will return to their birthplace and determine whether they should lay their eggs under the sand or in vegetation.
Organizations helping hawksbill turtles
There are many environmental groups working to help protect hawksbill turtles and other sea turtles around the world, too many to list them all. They include Sea Turtle Trackers, Karen Beasley Turtle Hospital, JustSea Foundation, Florida Hawksbill Project, HI Hawksbills, Karumbe (Uruguay), Loggerhead Marine Life Center, Sea Turtle Foundation, The National Marine Fisheries Service (officially called NOAA Fisheries) and the US Service fishing and wildlife.
These last two groups share jurisdiction over the sea turtles listed under ESA. NOAA Fisheries is in charge of marine turtle recovery and conservation efforts in the marine environment, and the US FWS leads marine turtle conservation and recovery efforts on nesting beaches. Because the hawksbill turtle inhabits the coasts of 108 countries, working in partnership with international organizations is a necessity. They do, among other things:
Conduct research to modify fishing gear design and fishing practices.
Designation of conservation areas for hawksbill turtles.
Protect and monitor hawksbill turtles in their habitats.
Develop conservation measures to reduce threats and promote recovery of the Hawksbill Turtle.
Study the biology and ecology of the hawksbill turtle to inform conservation management strategies and assess progress towards recovery.
Work to raise awareness of the need to conserve the Hawksbill Turtle.
Work with partners to combat the illegal trade in sea turtles.
Ecological contribution of hawksbill turtles
Hawksbill turtles play a specific role in their ecosystems. They help maintain healthy reefs by feeding primarily on sponges. Many species of sponges contain poisonous substances, but they do not affect the hawksbill turtle. In addition, there are more sponges than corals in the waters, and someone has to eat them to keep the corals healthy. In doing so, it also helps reef fish to have easier access to food to eat. Hawksbill turtles are the only sea turtles that feed on sponges and luckily, they are their favorite food. If sponges grew unchecked, they would pose a threat to the survival of corals and reef fish.
Hawksbill turtles also play a vital ecological role in connecting marine ecosystems. Without the hawksbill turtle, coral reefs and seagrass beds will not thrive.