Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Conservation status

National: Vulnerable
EPBC Act Status and Documents - Eretmochelys imbricata - Hawksbill turtle

Marine turtles are also protected under state and Northern Territory legislation. Please refer to the relevant state/Northern Territory Department website for further information.

Distribution and habitats

Hawksbill turtles typically occur in tidal and sub-tidal coral and rocky reef habitats throughout tropical waters, extending into warm temperate areas as far south as northern New South Wales. In Australia the main feeding area extends along the east coast, including the Great Barrier Reef. Other feeding areas include Torres Strait and the archipelagos of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, possibly as far south as Shark Bay or beyond. Hawksbill turtles also feed at Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Breeding areas and nesting seasons

Along the Great Barrier Reef, hawksbill turtles nest in low numbers from just north of Princess Charlotte Bay to Torres Strait. Nesting also occurs in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Two major breeding areas occur in Australia:

Northern Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and northeastern Arnhem Land have several significant nesting areas including: Milman, and Bouydong Islands in the northern Great BarrierReef; Sassie, Hawkesbury, Dayman, Zuizin, Mimi, Bourke, Aukane, Layoak, Bet, Saddle, Dabalai, Albany and Mt Adolphus Islands in Torres Strait; and Lane, northeastern beaches of Groote Eylandt, Hawk, North East, Truant, Hawksnest and Bustad Islands in north east Arnem Land.

The north-west shelf of Western Australia has several significant nesting areas within the Dampier Archipelago and the Montebello Islands. Lower density nesting is known from the Lowendal Islands, Varanus, Barrow, and Muiron Islands and the mainland. This is one of the largest hawksbill turtle populations remaining in the world.

Although hawksbill turtles breed throughout the year, the peak nesting period in the Torres Strait and Great Barrier Reef region occurs between January and February. In Arnhem Land, nesting peaks between July and October. The Western Australian nesting season occurs primarily from October to January, but the entire breeding season remains undefined.


Sponges make up a major part of the diet of hawksbill turtles, although they also feed on seagrasses, algae, soft corals and shellfish.

The hawksbill turtle has a distinctive parrot-like beak.

Hawksbill turtle carapace

  • 4 pairs or more of large scales on either side (costal scales)
  • Thick overlapping carapace scales
  • Carapace high domed
  • Colour olive-green or brown, variegated with brown or black markings
  • Adult carapace approximately 0.8 metres