The hawksbill sea turtle is found in shallower, tropical and subtropical waters, including coral reefs, with an important role in the ecosystem: it eats sponges that can harm the reefs. Like other sea turtles, the hawksbill turtle is threatened by several factors: loss of habitat from coastal degradation and development, hunting for its meat (which can be toxic due to its diet of sponges) and its eggs and accidental capture in commercial fishing and pollution.
One of the biggest threats to the hawksbill, however, is the illegal wildlife trade, contributing to an 80 percent decline in their numbers over the past century. Its beautiful carapace is used to make ‘tortoiseshell’ decorative items, including jewelry, combs and furniture. Tortoiseshell trade was banned in 1977 but a thriving black market for tortoiseshell still exists – an estimated 564 kg of Hawksbill shells were seized by Japanese customs between 2000 and 2019. This, combined with the other threats, may eventually drive the species to extinction.