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Natural UAE

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Family Cheloniidae


Description: Hawksbill turtles are smaller than green turtles, adults measuring about 80cm in length and weighing a maximum of about 50 kgs. They are named after their pointed, slightly hooked beak, which is accentuated by a narrow head. They can however be mistaken for young green turtles. Both are similar in colour and have four costal scutes on each side of the carapace. The thick costal scutes of the hawksbill tend to overlap in all but the oldest individuals and the trailing edge of the carapace often appears jagged. There are two pairs of plates between the eyes, compared to just one in the green turtle. Hawksbill turtle nests are roughly circular and shallow, usually less than half a metre deep. Unlike the technique used by green turtles, hawksbills move along the beach by alternately sweeping the fore flippers backwards, much like a freestyle swimming stroke. The tracks left by each flipper either side of the body are therefore parallel, but not directly opposite each other as they are in the green turtle.

Habitat: Feeding grounds are in shallow water over coral or rocky reefs where they feed on soft corals, sponges, ascidians and other animals. Nesting beaches may consist of anything from fine sand to rocky, coarse sand beaches in the UAE and include offshore islands and mainland sites.

Range: Hawksbill turtles probably occur wherever there are coral reefs, which suggests a range including much of the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Gulf coasts of the country. Most have been seen near the shallow, offshore coral reefs to the west of Abu Dhabi.

Comments: The nesting season of hawksbill turtles is during spring months when they emerge on scattered beaches covering a wide area. The carapace of hawksbill turtles is known as 'tortoise shell', a popular collector's item among tourists in many parts of the world. The trade in 'tortoise shell' is now banned by international treaty.

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