The #KenyaLive team have been our on turtle rescue duties in Watamu during which they answered a distress call concerning a Hawksbill turtle.
Hawksbill turtles are mostly found in shallower waters, preferring reef areas where sponges are abundant and sandy nesting sites are nearby.
These turtles have a striking coloured carapace of dark brown and amber, with serrated marginal scutes and lateral scutes that overlap when young and it has a whitish yellow plastron.
Like its name suggests, this turtle has a bird like keratin beak which is adapted for scraping sponge from the coral reefs.
Hawksbills are omnivorous and will also eat mollusks, algae, sea grass, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish, and jellyfish. They are one of the only creatures that can consume the toxic species of sponge. While they are not poisoned, their flesh retains the toxins and can be passed onto predators who feed on this species. In fact, there have been a number of incidences in Kenya where a whole family has died due to consuming toxic hawksbill meat.
These turtles are integral to a healthy coral reef ecosystem. Using their hawk like beak they clean the coral by scraping and feeding on the sponges that otherwise smother the coral. Without their intervention, the coral would die due to the lack of photosynthesis.
Females can lay around 130 eggs in each nest, and will usually emerge four times to nest in one season.
Due to huge international demand for the hawksbill shell, which was used for jewellery, picture frames, ornaments up until the 1990’s, the species was nearly wiped out. However, after the Hawksbill Turtle was listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), international trade in the species has been prohibited unless the purpose of trade is non-commercial.