Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricate

Malti: Il-fekruna bit-tikki

The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) is a marine turtle which spends most of its time in open seas, although it has been reported that it generally spends more time in shallow lagoons and coral reefs. The appearance of a hawksbill is similar to other marine turtles since its body is relatively flattened, its carapace is very protective and its arms are flipper-like which makes it capable to swim in aquatic bodies.

It can easily be distinguished from other marine turtle species since it has a curving and sharp bird-like beak (hence, its name) with a prominent tomium (the sharp cutting edge of the turtle’s beak) and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins. This beak provides this turtle with the right tool for its lifestyle to look into holes searching for its prey, mainly sponges in such a way to be able to crush them.

The carapace of the hawksbill is oval, with strongly serrated posterior margin and thick overlapping scutes. The scutes (keratinous scale overlaying the bony carapace; the number and arrangement of which helps identify the different species) overlap one another like shingles on a roof and are one of the main features for recognizing this species. The colour of the carapace also helps in identification as it ranges from golden to dark brown with red, black and orange streaks.

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Hawksbill is a critically endangered species. This is mainly due to over harvesting and bad human fishing practices on these species to obtain their shells for decorative purposes. Such practices are threatening the hawksbill sea turtles to extinction and thus, the capturing of these species and the resultant products have been also been outlawed by the Conservation on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), apart from other Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

In the Mediterranean, the hawksbill sea turtle has been rarely encountered. One record of this turtle in the Mediterranean was in 1909, whereby a young female hawksbill was caught in the limits of Marseille, France. It has also been reported in Maltese waters in the 1980’s. The dead specimen was later conserved at the Natural History Museum in Mdina (Groom bridge, 1994; Casale & Margaritoulis, 2010).