Habitat and Ecology
Hawksbills nest on insular and mainland sandy beaches throughout the tropics and subtropics. They are highly migratory and use a wide range of broadly separated localities and habitats during their lifetimes (for review see Witzell 1983). Available data indicate that newly emerged hatchlings enter the sea and are carried by offshore currents into major gyre systems where they remain until reaching a carapace length of some 20 to 30 cm. At that point they recruit into a neritic developmental foraging habitat that may comprise coral reefs or other hard bottom habitats, sea grass, algal beds, or mangrove bays and creeks (Musick and Limpus 1997) or mud flats (R. von Brandis unpubl. data). As they increase in size, immature Hawksbills typically inhabit a series of developmental habitats, with some tendency for larger turtles to inhabit deeper sites (van Dam and Diez 1997, Bowen et al. 2007). Once sexually mature, they undertake breeding migrations between foraging grounds and breeding areas at intervals of several years (Witzell 1983, Dobbs et al. 1999, Mortimer and Bresson 1999). Global population genetic studies have demonstrated the tendency of female sea turtles to return to breed at their natal rookery (Bowen and Karl 1997), even though as juveniles they may have foraged at developmental habitats located hundreds or thousands of kilometers from the natal beach. While Hawksbills undertake long migrations, some portion of immature animals may settle into foraging habitats near their beaches of origin (Bowen et al. 2007).
Roles in the EcosystemLike other species of sea turtles, Hawksbills contribute to marine and coastal food webs and transport nutrients within the oceans (Bouchard and Bjorndal 2000). Hawksbills are important components of healthy coral reef ecosystems and are primarily spongivorous in the