Hawksbills with Dr. Tom Byrnes
The Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricate, so named because of a narrow hawk-like beak, is the most common turtle found in Cayman waters. They are also characterized by their overlapping shell scales giving them a serrated look as well as having 2 claws on each flipper.
Hawksbills are associated with coral reefs throughout the world and feed primarily on sponges as well as and to a lesser extent, jellyfish, anemones and even algae. It is not uncommon to see these turtles tearing away the harder, leathery cover of a Geodia sponge, much to the delight of opportunist fish who are unable to get at the fleshy inside layers without help. Some fish even wait for the turtle to get a mouthful so they can pick at the extra bits on either side of its face.
Females return to the beaches every 2 to 3 years each night for about a 2 week period to lay some 130 eggs in each of 3 to 5 nests. Incubation is about 2 months and when juveniles emerge they start their pelagic stage, taking shelter in floating mats of algae and debris.
Unfortunately this species is considered endangered for a number of reasons including habitat degradation, fishing by-catch and consumption of meat and eggs. Perhaps most damaging, is the fact they are harvested for their beautiful brown and yellow carapace plates which are fashioned tortoiseshell items for jewelry and ornaments.
About the Author: Dr. Tom Byrnes has been running dive charters in Grand Cayman for 30 years making him one of the most knowledgeable captains on the water today. Cayman Marine Lab started as a strictly academic endeavor teaching college students tropical marine biology but as it turns out the hunger for a marine biologist to show and teach tourist divers the secrets of the reefs and various other marine habitats was overwhelming. CML is the adventure dive operation in that we go out of our way to bring you to the least dived reefs Cayman has to offer…and what a difference it makes.