It’s cruel irony that the most common sea turtle you’ll see in the waters around Antigua and Barbuda, the Hawksbill, is a critically endangered species due to human activity. Antigua hosts several conservation projects for the Hawksbill, including the Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project and the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) of Antigua and Barbuda’s Turtle Project. The greatest concentration of Hawksbills can be found on Long Island, (Antigua, not New York), off North Sound.
Hawksbills are predominantly found in the world’s tropical oceans. They live on a diet of mostly sponges, which they pull out of coral reefs with the narrow hawk-like beaks for which they’re named, though they also eat jellyfish.
In fact, the hawksbill’s eating habits maintain the health of coral reefs, which contain complex ecosystems full of biodiversity. By removing sponge from the coral, they make room in those reefs for fish to feed.
The main threat facing the hawksbill is illegal wildlife trade. Their shells are marketed as tortoiseshell items, especially in East Asia. Their eggs are poached, their meat hunted. Human development erodes the beaches around them. Besides poaching, Hawksbill Sea Turtles have been a major victim of bycatch, getting caught accidentally in fishing nets. In an attempt to address the issue, safer types of fishing gear are being developed for commercial fisheries.
The net effect is that the hawksbill, a member of a line of reptiles that have existed for 100 million years, is “teetering on the edge of extinction,” according to National Geographic.
It’s unknown how many are left, but the Sea Turtle Conservancy estimates that there are currently 20,000 to 23,000 nesting females left. Conservationists are using GPS technology to learn more about their movements, nesting, and feeding habits.