The hawksbill turtle is found all over the world in warmer waters. Generally solitary, it undertakes long-distance migrations, using instincts and environmental cues as a guide. Females use their navigational prowess to return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. Despite widespread distribution in both the Atlantic and Pacific, this sea turtle is threatened with extinction, classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and on Appendix I in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Hawksbills stand out from other sea turtles with their sharp, curving beak and the saw-like edge on their shell. They have two prefrontal scales and overlapping scutes on their carapace. They grow up to 3ft and a weight of about 175lbs. The hawksbill lives the early part of its life in the open ocean but then is more often found around coral reefs and shallow lagoons, where it feeds mostly on sponges growing on the sea floor. Some of these sponges are highly toxic and lethal to other organisms and can also out-compete reef-building corals. As a result, just by eating sea sponges and keeping their populations in check, the hawksbill plays a critical role in maintaining healthy reefs. When nesting, hawksbill turtles lay an average of 150 eggs per nest, 3-5 times per season. The nesting season typically spans from May to October. Females nest every 2-3 years. The Pearl Cays has of the largest hawksbill rookeries in the Wider Caribbean, with hundreds of nests laid each year. Nesting hawksbill populations can also be found on the north Pacific side of the country, in places such as the Estero Padre Ramos Reserve.