If you’re into sea turtles (and, honestly, who isn’t?) you’ve probably heard about the Hawksbill, one of several species of sea turtles found in the waters off Belize. Due to declining populations of the Hawksbill, it is not often seen by divers in most areas of the world, but one of the many great things about Glover’s Reef is that we see them frequently.
Human fishing practices threaten E. imbricata populations with extinction. The World Conservation Union classifies the Hawksbill as critically endangered. Hawksbill shells are the primary source of tortoise shell 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.
Out at Glover’s Reef we encounter hawksbills most frequently out at Long Caye Wall, an undersea cliff, the top of which is a mere 35 feet below sea level and just a short swim from the island shore. From that easily reached perch, the cliff drops 3,000 feet practically straight down, and the turtles and other large creatures seem to love that spot. It’s a great place to scuba dive!
So far this season we’ve seen evidence of at least 3 very exciting Hawksbill turtle hatch-outs on Long Caye. Guests have woken to disorientated baby turtles under their waterfront cabanas and a search has ensued to make sure no more needed help getting to the water.
Emerging from the sandy nests Hawkbills start on their long journey to adulthood which can take more than 30 years. A female can weigh up to 50 kilograms and only breeds every two to four years, but during the breeding season they may next up to six times, laying about 120 eggs in each clutch. The sex of the hatchlings will depend on the temperature in the nest.
Hawksbill turtles are on the international endangered list as are loggerhead turtles. Loggerhead turtles are less frequently seen in these waters, this makes our beach find all the more exciting.
One of our young guests was beach combing after breakfast on Monday; Valentine’s Day when she spotted what she at first thought was a very realistic baby turtle model. As she went to pick it up she realized is was moving!! The baby turtle had washed ashore during strong northerly winds and was part hidden in seaweed. The baby was approximately 1 inch larger than the Hawksbill babies we have found on the island. We identified it as Loggerhead by examining the plate formations on its shell and its beak shape.
Loggerhead eggs take approximately 60 days to hatch. Hatchlings dig their way up through the sand and wait till night fall before emerging and making their way to the ocean. When they emerge from the nest loggerheads are usually only about 5 cm long.
The baby we found on Valentine’s Day was approximately 9 cm.
An adult loggerhead can live to be more than 50 years old, 90cm long and over 110 kg. Our little rescued turtle was allowed to rest in a tub of sea water all day and released after dark…hopefully it will come back to visit one day as a great big graceful adult to wow divers and snorkelers alike.