Everyone at Scubafish enjoys their encounters with Hawksbill Turtles. Some Hawksbills can be a little shy, whereas others can be overly friendly. Their curiosity sometimes gets the better of them; they have been know to snuggle up or try to gently nibble an unsuspecting diver.
The Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered sea turtle, belonging to the family Cheloniidae. Hawksbill Turtles are found in the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans and the Andaman Sea. They avoid deep water, preferring coastlines where sponges and bubble corals are abundant. They like sandy nesting sites to be within their reach.
Fishing practices threaten the Hawksbill Turtle population with extinction. The World Conservation Union classifies the Hawksbill as critically endangered. Their shells are the primary source of the tortoiseshell material which is sold for decorative purposes. The ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ outlaws the capture and trade of Hawksbill Turtles and products derived from them.
Interesting facts about Hawsbill Turtles
Sea Turtles have survived on earth for more than 100 million years, living in open waters and coastal habitats. Sea turtles are reptiles, whose ancestors evolved on land and took to the sea. They are one of the very few species still surviving that witnessed the dinosaurs evolution and extinction.
Hawksbill Turtles are not particularly large compared to other sea turtles. Hawksbills grow to about 45 inches (114 centimeters) shell length and can weigh up to 68 kgs. While young, their upper shell is heart-shaped and as they mature it elongates. Their strikingly colored shell is serrated and has overlapping scales, or thick bony plates. Their heads taper in to a sharp point resembling a bird’s beak, hence their name. A further distinctive feature is the pair of claws at the end of each flipper. Male Hawksbills have longer claws, thicker tails, and somewhat brighter coluoring than females.
Hawksbill’s have flipper-like arms, adapted for swimming in the open sea. They usually take more than 30 years to reach adulthood and will often live to a great age; thirty to fifty years. In common with other sea turtles, Hawksbills are solitary for most of their lives, they meet only to mate.
Like other sea turtles, Hawksbills migrate vast distances to feeding sites and nesting grounds, generally, on tropical beaches. Mating occurs every two to three years and normally takes place in shallow waters, close to the shore. The nesting procedure begins when the turtles leave the sea and choose an area to lay their eggs. A pit is dug in the sand, filled with eggs, and then covered. At this stage the turtles retreat to the sea, leaving the eggs, which will hatch in about 60 days, at night. The baby Hawksbill Turtles usually weigh less than 24 grams (0.85 oz) and are dark-coloured, with heart-shaped shells, measuring around 2.5 centimeters (0.98 in.) They instinctively walk into the sea, attracted by the reflection of the moon on the water. The most dangerous time of their lives comes when hatchlings make the journey from their nests to the sea. Crabs and flocks of gulls voraciously prey on the young turtles during this short journey.
Hawksbills are omnivorous and will also eat mollusks, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish and jellyfish. Their hard shells protect them from many predators, but they still fall prey to large fish, sharks, crocodiles, octopuses and humans.
Like many sea turtles, Hawksbills are a critically endangered species due mostly to the threat from humans. Hawksbill eggs are still eaten around the world, despite the turtle’s international protected status and they are often killed for their flesh and their stunning shells. These graceful sea turtles are also threatened by unintentional capture in fishing nets.
One man in Thailand who is particularly concerned with the Hawksbill’s threatened extinction is Mr Preeda Charoenpak, the owner of Ban Maprao Resort on Koh Thalu, off Prachuap Khiri Khan. A former fisherman, he was himself a threat to the survival of these ancient creatures. He now concentrates his efforts on improving conditions for their continued survival, by working to restore the coral reefs and by raising environmental awareness, resulting in an abundance of Hawksbill Turtles in the area. However, he was aware that their chance of survival, after hatching, was as little as 10% and so, he set up a hatchery and nursery: The Sea Turtle Conservation Centre in Sattahip, Chon Buri. Here, their chances of survival are increased to 90% and when the time is right, they are released back to nature, where they will grow and breed.
Techniques and ideas when photographing Hawksbill Turtles
- Don’t crowd a Hawksbill Turtle, approach slowly and don’t scare or startle them.
- Never surround the animal, don’t chase after them and don’t ever touch them.
- If you see them free swimming get a sense of the general direction they are going and be in the general area where they will be. If they are interested or curious, they will often approach you.
- Frequently, you will find them eating some bubble coral, this can make for the perfect shot, because they are engrossed in their feast.
- A close-up portrait shot, with an external strobe and a deep blue background is definitely a shot to be aiming for. The plain blue contrasts favourably with the patterned shell of the turtle.
- A sunburst in the background of a diving turtle, with an external strobe, would make for a spectacular photograph. It takes patience to exactly time and position the perfect shot, but well worth the effort.
- Silhouettes against the sun, full body from above, side or below and macro of turtle shell detail.