The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is the only extant species in its genus. The species has a worldwide distribution, with Atlantic and Pacific subspecies. E. i. imbricata is the Atlantic subspecies, while E. i. bissa is found in the Indo-Pacific region.
The hawksbill's appearance is similar to that of other marine turtles. It has a generally flattened body shape, a protective carapace, and flipper-like arms, adapted for swimming in the open ocean. E. imbricata is easily distinguished from other sea turtles by its sharp, curving beak with prominent tomium, and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins. Hawksbill shells slightly change colors, depending on water temperature. While this turtle lives part of its life in the open ocean, it spends more time in shallow lagoons and coral reefs.
Human fishing practices threaten E. imbricata populations with extinction. The World Conservation Union classifies the hawksbill as critically endangered. Hawksbill shells were the primary source of tortoiseshell material used for decorative purposes. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species outlaws the capture and trade of hawksbill sea turtles and products derived from them.
General consensus has determined sea turtles, including E. imbricata to be, at the very least, threatened species because of their slow growth and maturity, and slow reproductive rates. Many adult turtles have been killed by humans, both deliberately and accidentally. In addition, human and animal encroachment threatens nesting sites, and small mammals dig up eggs. In the US Virgin Islands, mongooses raid hawksbill nests (along with those of other sea turtles, such as Dermochelys coriacea) right after they are laid.
In 1982, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species first listed E. imbricata as endangered. It was upgraded in status to critically endangered in 1996. The data given by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group showed the worldwide hawksbill sea turtle population had declined by 80% in the three most recent generations, and no significant population increase occurred as of 1996. CR A2 status was denied, however, because the IUCN did not find sufficient data to show the population likely to decrease by a further 80% in the future.
The species (along with the entire family Cheloniidae) has been listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. It is illegal to import or export turtle products, or to kill, capture, or harass hawksbill sea turtles. Local involvement in conservation efforts has also increased in the past few years.