Department of Parks adn Wildlife

What is a hawksbill turtle? The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is an attractive sea turtle with a beak like a parrot. It is very long lived and usually takes more than 30 years to reach adulthood. Western Australia has the only large population of the hawksbill turtle left in the Indian Ocean.

What does it look like? This species has thick overlapping scales on its shell, which reaches about 80 centimetres long. Its shell is olive grey with reddish-brown, brown or black markings and it is upturned at the edges. Adult females weigh about 50 kilograms.

Graphic : Location Map of Hawksbill Turtles in Western Australia Where does it live? Hawksbill turtles live near coral and rocky reefs in the warm tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans and the Central Atlantic. In Western Australia they nest from Ningaloo Marine Park northwards, and there is a major colony on Rosemary Island within the proposed Dampier Archipelago Marine Park. Nesting may occur all year round but in WA it peaks between October and January.

What they eat and how: Hawksbill turtles like to eat sponges, sea squirts, soft corals, shellfish, seagrasses and seaweeds.

Threats: In many parts of the world, thousands of hawksbill turtles have been killed for the ‘tortoiseshell’ on their back, as well as for food. Australia stopped trading in hawksbill turtle products in 1977, but in some parts of the world the trade in tortoiseshell still continues.

Breeding: The females travel up to 2400 kilometres between their feeding and breeding grounds. They only breed once every two to four years but during the breeding season they may nest up to six times, laying about 120 eggs in each clutch. The sex of the hatchlings depends on the temperature in the nest.


Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill TurtleBehaviour: After hatching, the baby turtles swim out to sea for several days. They then spend the next five to ten years drifting around in surface waters at the mercy of ocean currents, and they feed mainly on plankton. They are often found in huge rafts of drifting sargassum, a type of brown seaweed, where they are probably best able to hide from potential predators. Once they reach lengths of 30 or 40 centimetres they settle in one particular area around coral or rocky reef.

Conservation status: The hawksbill turtle is a threatened species classed as vulnerable in Western Australia, but its international status is critically endangered.

How you can protect the hawksbill turtle: If you find a turtle with a tag, note the number and contact the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, which conducts turtle tagging in association with numerous volunteers at important nesting beaches throughout WA. The information that is collected is used to better manage and protect WA’s populations of hawksbill turtles. If you should find a stranded or dead turtle, please contact the Wildcare Helpline or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..